Sunday, January 21, 2024

Protest Art

A few years ago I wrote about Protest Songs ...

But what about protest in Visual Arts? Protest art is not new ... I have read that there are early examples in ancient Egypt protesting the Pharaohs and the ruling class.

Art can be challenging, and some created to influence the viewer in a specific cause may continue to resonate. You might see the British artist Bansky’s “Vigil Candle Burning a U.S. Flag”, as a statement about the latest political news but you would be wrong. It was painted two weeks after George Floyd was killed in May of 2020 and Banksy said, “People of color are being failed by the system ... the white system.”

What sparked this Missive was seeing the exhibition of the work of Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax artist from Alaska, at our local Kunsthalle, SITE Santa Fe. His work protests how the treatment of Native Americans by the Whites since their arrival on this continent. One of the subjects he addresses is the boarding schools that Indian children were forced to attend. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has reported that the Indian Boarding School System lasted from 1819-1969. The repeated goal was “Kill the Indian Save the Man”. It was a white supremacist belief that if you stripped indigenous people of their culture, they could become “civilized” and integrated into Anglo society. To this end, Native children were dragged off from their families with small handcuffs like these which Galanin made into an object of art in 2014 by engraving them with indigenous motifs.

A work that Galanin calls “Loom” is a series of prefab school desks and chairs stacked in the form of a Northwest Coast totem pole. Whitewall Magazine expresses my reaction precisely, “a gutting allusion to the North American practice of residential schools which forced Indigenous families to send their children away to facilities where conditions were so severe as many as half never survived to return home”.

In 1941 the brilliant black artist, Jacob Lawrence protested Jim Crow in the South with his “Migration Series“ His 60 images are devoted to the millions of African-Americans who fled the South to the more tolerant North in search of better lives. Each one grabs you with its color and strength and leads you to the details of what it is about.

When Michangelo’s sculpture of David proved too heavy to raise to its planned location atop the Cathedral of Florence it was installed in front of the city’s government offices, the Palazzo Della Signoria. Positioned so David appeared ready to launch his rock in the direction of Rome, it became a defiant threat to the former ruling Medici family who had fled there in exile. When the Medici returned David became the focal point of protest riots. Why did the sculpture appear in the Daytona Beach News-Journal last March in an article by C.A. Bridges? Because Michelangelo’s art was again at the center of protest as the principal at Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County resigned after three parents complained that the required Renaissance art class, which included "David" as well as the "Creation of Adam" fresco and Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," upset their children.

To avoid any hate mail, I won’t show any examples of religious art but over the centuries there has been plenty of explicit art for and against various religions throughout the ages.

But, to conclude, this work created in 1989 by the Gorilla Girls shows still another kind of protest.

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