AND THE RE- CUPERA- TION
BACKGROUND: Protest at the National Congress of Brazil, June 17, 2013, Brasília L–R: Protest at the Heliopolis Palace, December 9, 2012, Cairo; Western Cape farmworkers strike, December 5, 2012, De Doorns, South Africa
The Protest and The Recuperation
AND THE RE- CUPERA- TION
Miriamand Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University
Edited by Betti-Sue Hertz and Sreshta Rit Premnath
8 Betti-Sue Hertz and Sreshta Rit Premnath Acknowledgments
6 Amy Hungerford Introduction
The Lure of Protest
The Future of Protest in a Post-Digital Age
Sreshta Rit Premnath
Art and Efficacy
KHAL I D ALBA I H After the Protest Movement
L ARA BAL AD I Interviewwith Lara Baladi
SHARON CH I N Invisible Threads
Sophia Suk-Mun Law
CHOW CHUN FA I Portraits fromBehind: AnOngoing Trauma Revisited
RACHAEL HAYNES Where DoWe Even Begin? SRESHTA R I T PREMNATH Zone of Nonbeing
Alpesh Kantilal Patel
OL I VER RESS LER Everything’s coming together while everything’s falling apart: Oliver Ressler’s Films on Climate Activism
JOSUÉ R I VAS For the Next Seven Generations
HANK WI L L I S THOMAS Whose Side Are YouOn?
Marcela A. Fuentes
EUGEN I A VARGAS - PERE I RA Delirious Vulnerability: Aesthetics of Encounter, Care, and Resistance in the Chilean Revolt
148 Artists and Their Works
159 Photo Credits
Introduction AMY HUNGERFORD
What lies ahead for the art of protest? “Weapons of theweak,” as the anthro- pologist and political scientist James Scott has called them, 1 include forms of mass assembly that transform the fragile individual into an unstoppable force—for good or for ill. On the one hand, that power can express itself in violence, as it did at theUnited States Capitol on January 6, 2021. On the other, it can offer what wemight call “potent hope.” All those bodies in peaceful but unified purpose: a better world is sure to follow. The Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University takes up the beau- ty and potential of mass movements in the exhibition catalogued in these pages, The Protest and The Recuperation . There has never been a better time to bring the resources of art to bear on political content. I am not speaking here of ideological works that use the various media of the arts to package their content in appealing dress. Rather, I am speaking of works that invite thought and feeling about political subjects through open forms, ambiguity, morphology, perspective, shock, beauty, texture, and the startling juxtapo- sition of elements. In the works gathered here, we encounter not packaging but experience. Indeed, it is the experience of prolonged protest and its consequences for individuals and societies that is newly salient. Citizens young and old, the world over, have put their lives on the line or on hold—in some contexts, devot- edmonths to what can only be called the full-time work of protest. Suited up and heading out each day and night inHong Kong, in Ferguson, in Tahrir Square, citizens dedicated to change confront the fact that the status quo, held up by its institutions and habits, is positioned to outlast them. And in virtually every case, protest carries the potential for violence even when a majority of indi- viduals are peaceful. Sometimes, at the end of their options, violence is turned against the self—as in hunger strikes or self-immolation. Is there a way to do this work with the urgency and duration it sometimes demands yet maintain an ethic of care? Here is where creativity comes in. This exhibition suggests that art- making has a vital role to play in the practice of recuperative—or, we might say, sustainable—protest. We see artistic play, for instance, in the elaborate headdresses and masks fashioned by protesters to protect their identities in the portraits from Eugenia Vargas-Pereira’s series Tus ojos cuentan la historia (Your Eyes Tell the Story , 2019). Looking at a photographic image, one cannot help but hear, feel and rejoice in thewater, the human grace, and the saturat- ed color of Sharon Chin’s performance event at the 2013 Singapore Biennale, Mandi Bunga/Flower Bath . I have beenmoved by other forms of protest in art in recent years—for instance, the Palestinian artist Nidaa Badwan’s photographic
1. James C. Scott, Weapons of the Week: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (NewHaven: Yale University Press, 1985).
2. Nidaa Badwan, “100 Days of Solitude,” exh. cat. (Jerusalem: Al Hoash Gallery, 2015); see http://www. postmastersart.com/archive/bad- wan16/badwan16.html.
self-portraits in her series 100 Days of Solitude , 2 where her withdrawal in pro- test from life outside her home in Gaza enables an outpouring of gorgeous self-creation. What distinguishes the Wallach Art Gallery’s exhibition is the collectivemaking that seems to drive its artists. When the practices of art-making meet the practices of protest, the works in the exhibition suggest, one glimpses not just collective human re- silience but the vision of a different form of social organization. Even when violence is the subject, art-making can recuperate some of what violence and oppression tear away. If politics is in part the art of sharing the dream of a different world, art is surely its natural counterpart. Creative work makes recuperationmaterial.
Acknowledgments BETTI -SUE HERTZ AND SRESHTA RIT PREMNATH
It is always with great pleasure that we arrive at the time in an exhibition proj- ect when we thank themany people near and far who have contributed to its success. We are extremely indebted to all of them. The Protest and The Recuperation represents the close collaborations of many gifted colleagues without whom the exhibition would have not been possible. The Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University is truly amazing in its ability to provide platforms for new developments in art and art history in concertwith the artists, scholars, writers, and arts professionalswithwhomwe collaborate.We thoroughly enjoy sharing our efforts andworkingwith our vari- ous constituencies, especially the Columbia community, our Upper Manhattan neighbors, and our diverse onsite visitors and remote audiences alike. With this exhibition, we are privileged to showcase the work of an in- credible group of global artists and writers who have guided and inspired our understanding of the intersection between art and protest. It is with the deepest gratitude that we thank the talented artists who have remained committed to the project despite the countless adjustmentswe have had to navigate together brought onby the coronavirus pandemic, includ- ing a delay in the exhibition dates. Theywere all incredibly gracious, generously devoting time and thought to the exhibition. They areKhalidAlbaih, LaraBaladi, Sharon Chin, Chow Chun Fai, Rachael Haynes, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Oliver Ressler, Josué Rivas, Hank Willis Thomas, and Eugenia Vargas-Pereira. Special thanks to all of the artists who participated in our public programs and events. We owe a tremendous amount to the Wallach Art Gallery staff, who encouraged a sense of risk and possibility and embraced an undertaking of this scale, scope, and depth in themidst of a global pandemic. We are tremen- dously grateful to Lewis Long, Associate Director of External Affairs; Jennifer Mock, Associate Director of Public Programs and Education; and Jeanette Silverthorne, Associate Director of Finance and Administration for their en- thusiasm and vision. In addition, we wish to thank Elisa Heikkilä, Associate Director of Development Initiatives, Arts & Sciences, for her ardent efforts to secure funds for the Gallery’s exhibitions and programming. Gallery Manager Eddie Bartolomei and Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator Diana Matuszak are invaluable in assuring that theWallach exhibitions are prepared, mounted, cared for, and maintained. We are grateful to the gallery attendants Evan Clinton, Stephanie Litchfield, and Daniel Lopez, who ensure that visitors have the highest quality experience, and to our Administrative Assistant Zachary Valdez, who steadfastly assists us with our administrative and programming ambitions. We offer a warm thank you to Marina Avia Estrada, a student in Columbia University’s Art History and Archaeology Department’s MODA
program, for generously sharing her knowledge of Latin American and Spanish artists and activists. She also assistedwith the preparation of this publication. Wewant to thank our student assistants Katherine Bibilouri, Nancy Chong, and AndrewGolden, whowere invaluable to the project. The Wallach Art Gallery’s exhibition programs are made possible with support from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Endowment Fund, the gallery’s patrons, and additional support fromColumbia University. This project would not have been possible without their support. We are very grateful to Eli Klein and Phail Cai at Eli Klein Gallery, New York; Hilda Chang and Anthony Tao at Exit Gallery, Hong Kong; and Rebecca Chang, Devan Owens, and Ruth Phaneuf at Jack Shainman, New York, for facilitating loans to the exhibition. Thank you to Prem Krishnamurthy, Chris Wu, Eric Price and the entire design teamatWkshps for designing this publication and for providing us with a unique graphic direction for the entire project that communicates sowell our approach to protest and recuperation, and to Pamela T. Barr, whose editorial skills brought cohesion to themany voices representedwithin these pages. Our deepest thanks go to our contributing essayists for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm through their thought-provoking and insightful essays. We are grateful to Anthony Downey for his brilliant discussion of the importance of digital circulation and aesthetics for understanding the import- ant shifts in protest culture in recent years. We are also indebted to Barnaby Drabble, Quincy Flowers, MarcelaA. Fuentes, JonathanGuyer, Sophia Suk-mun Law, Fiona Lee, JacquelineMillner, AlpeshKantilal Patel, FredRitchin, and Beth Stryker for their insightful essays on the individual artists represented in the exhibition. We thank colleagues Yau Ching, Abby Chen, and Reilly Clarke for helping us identify the artists andwriters included in the project. We are so thankful to everyone mentioned here for believing in The Protest and The Recuperation , oftentimes long before we had any idea what form the exhibition and publication would take. It is an honor and a pleasure to be included in this extensive community of people who care deeply about contemporary art and its important role in the formation of culture as well as the individual artist’s enlightened vision on how creative protest contributes to progressive worldviews.
Betti -Sue Hertz and Sreshta Rit Premnath
BACKGROUND: Anti-Trump protest, February 11, 2017, San Francisco L–R: Black Lives Matter Protest, June 12, 2020, London; Tahrir Square protest, January 25, 2012, Cairo; Pro-democracy demonstration, 2019, Hong Kong; Global Climate March, November 17, 2015, Melbourne
BACKGROUND: Black Lives Matter Protest, June 9, 2020, New York City L–R: People’s Climate March, April 29, 2017, Washington, D.C.; Standing Rock Rally, September 16, 2014, Seattle; Indian land acquisition protest, March 3, 2020, Jaipur; Occupy Wall Street, September 30, 2011, New York City
BETTI -SUE HERTZ
We are seeing amarked increase in the globalization of progressive protests, which often arise organically from local political conditions exacerbated by growing gaps in economic opportunities. The people, or what Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt call “themultitudes,” 1 are expressing their deep dissatisfaction through street protests about issues ranging fromcivil rights to citizenship to climate change. Over the past ten years, fromWashington, D.C., and Standing Rock, South Dakota, to Santiago, Chile, and Hong Kong, and to hundreds of villages across India, people from large swaths of demographic sectors literally have been taking to the streets to voice their concern and outrage. The protesters are ideologically diverse, andmany are publicly coming out to support a cause for the first time. The Protest and The Recuperation is a survey of artistic perspectives on, and responses to, this global phenomenon of mass protest and of recuperative strategies of resistance. It is a tribute to those who have gathered in solidarity to voice demands that the status quomust change and to
1. See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (NewYork: Penguin, 2004).
15 Betti -Sue Hertz
hail themessages and inventive creativity that have come to define the culture of protest. While I acknowledge that protest can function, as well, to promote reactionary ideologies, The Protest and The Recuperation is focused on art that reveals the visual and performative aesthetics of progressive protests. It was developed as an exploration of what art can contribute to our understanding of this performative formand of the necessity of public gathering as a strategy for effecting change. Through participation, observation, interpretation, representation, and appropriation, artists Khalid Albaih, Lara Baladi, Sharon Chin, ChowChun Fai, Rachael Haynes, Sreshta Rit Premnath, Oliver Ressler, Josué Rivas, HankWillis Thomas, and Eugenia Vargas-Pereira present nuanced perspectives on the value of protests as aggregate expressions of thousands, evenmillions, of individual participants. Conceptually, the exhibition begins with the Arab Spring’s outburst of dissent and local organizing networks in 2011, which put pressure on authoritarian regimes, and continues with resistancemovements that followed that year, including OccupyWall Street. From2011 to 2020 the world witnessed an extraordinary period of revolt that spread quickly from site to site through social media. We saw a renewed surge in the United States after President Trump took office, as in the stunning 2017Women’s March. Other examples include, in 2019 alone, the significant percentage of Hongkongers who came together to fight against China’s “big hand,” the Friday protests in Algiers, and the protests in Baghdad against government corruption that purposefully
16 The Lure of Protest
created tensions between different subgroups and fueled sectarian divides within Iraq.
* * *
Amid the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I thought that in-person street protests would come to a halt. I was wrong. In a phone call in April 2020, the artist Lara Baladi remarked, “Protests will continue because people’s lives are going to be evenmore precarious during this troubling time of global crisis.” That people across the globe would defy lockdown regulations, curfews, and other ordinances installed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus was a testament to protest’s persistence as an essential tool for political and social change. Although its efficacy in influencing policy change has had varied results, it functions powerfully to galvanize attention on fights for justice against the inequities promulgated by governments, corporations, and other powerful actors. Protest is a broad category, yet when characterized as a right in neoliberal constitutional societies, it is, in its peaceful manifestations, constitutionally protected and is, with increasing force, shaping narratives for social and political priorities. From resistance to oppression and inequity to outcries to protect the environment, protest itself manifests as a symbol of potentiality for forging a progressive future.
17 Betti -Sue Hertz
The Protest and The Recuperation focuses on art that reveals the visual and performative aesthetics of protests. Without getting into territory beyondmy expertise as a curator and an art historianwith a focus on contemporary art, I will say simply that the basic rights of freedom to express oneself, freedom to voice an opinion that is not that of the prevailing government and its surrogates, to question laws as unfair, or to be determined tomove policy intomore just territories has become a companion to liberal democracy’s obsession with the vote. The vote canmove amountain and reverse a deadly toxic flowof corruption, up to a point. The vote can be turned into something it was never intended to be— manipulated, distorted, ignored. In other words, voting is at the core of liberal democracy but in reality is rife with inequities and oftenwith unresolved problems. In some nations—China, United Arab Emirates—suffrage is limited and highly controlled, so resistance will take other forms such as noncompliance, the creation of underground networks, digital subterfuge, and hunger strikes. While I herald these forms of resistance, this exhibition prioritizes the live corporeal protest and the gathering of many bodies into a collectivity, with a nod to digital circulation’s role in expediting the diffusion of strategies. My interest in the public displays of performative aesthetics as an important component of resistancemovements crystalized in 2017 upon experiencing theWomen’s March. I find the expression of both joy and struggle by those who can and choose to use their bodies as a vehicle for positive
18 The Lure of Protest
change to be exhilarating andmotivating for next steps for more equitable social policies. Themass movement for justice and equity is conveyed through the visual image of thesemassive gatherings. My original idea for The Protest and The Recuperation was to consider recuperation from the perspective of the individual whoworks tirelessly for good through a life of resistance, action, and future visioning. In some ways, I created a fictional character to inhabit the world of protest. This person spends nights planning and preparing for the next round of street protests with sign in hand, water bottle in hand, hat on head, and comfortable shoes like millions showing up on the streets of cities and country roads around the world tomake public their discontent. I imagined a personwould need to recuperate, to be able to take a break, slowdown, and reboot. But the concept of recuperation, is, of course, much larger than one person’s need to regenerate energy and thought. Within protests, there aremany ways that people take care of one another in forms of collective caring such as themultiple services that were provided during OccupyWall Street—fromhealth care and libraries to food distribution and childcare. These acts alignwith the associative recuperation of the rights that have been denied amid the struggle that requires a taking back of what has been taken away. The Protest and The Recuperation acknowledges the relationship between taking action and taking care as a complex web of interconnected physical and psychological states. I sought to incorporate and validate recovery as an
19 Betti -Sue Hertz
integral component of progressive forwardmotion. Indeed, recuperation is a necessary counterpoint to the work of transformative justice in the spheres of public and political life. By foregrounding the protesters and their work, I aimed to create a tribute to the effort it takes to create public resistance and revolt, not only logistically but also conceptually and emotionally. Naming recuperation as a necessity gives it visibility and efficacy and places it as part of a cycle of action and reflection. Many protests are themselves a formof recuperation, of that which has been lost or has never been allowed to flourish. The Black Lives Matter movement, like the civil rights movement before it, is a space for articulating recuperative needs as well as restitutions. Likewise, many collective uprisings aremarked by a determination to restore dignity, an aspiration for the full and healthy lives of humans, or a deep regard for nonhumans and the planet itself. Healing, ritual, and repair generate calmand resilience and are a respite from the physical and psychic demands of protest but are also inwardly guided practices toward self-realization. These often personal and sometimes collective activities are a way for us to do the internal work necessary to breakwith useless or destructive habits in order to reorganize ourselves to construct amore just world. The reimagined is within our reach. This is why it is so important that we spend the time to recuperate, sowe can prepare ourselves for that next phase of justice making. Others may prioritize reparations and other forms of returning precious objects that have been stolen through imperial acts of thievery and disregard.
20 The Lure of Protest
* * *
Within a broad category of aesthetics and performance, the regenerative qualities of play as acts of creative resistance and recovery of rights are central tomany of the recent mass protests. “Any kind of street-level protest, froman anti-Trident demonstration to the pro-democracy umbrella protests in Hong Kong, is effectively a formof theatre.” 2 Performative aesthetics is a formof protest that prioritizes theatricality and spectacle and delivers protest as a creative act. It takes back aliveness from the necropolitics 3 of the authoritative state by calling attention to the body resisting control. The theorist Judith Butler posits, “For politics to take place, the bodymust appear. I appear to others, and they appear to me, whichmeans that some space between us allows each to appear. We are not simply visual phenomena for each other—our voices must be registered, and sowemust be heard; rather, whowe are, bodily, is already a way of being ‘for’ the other, appearing inways that we cannot see, being a body for another in a way that I cannot be for myself, and so dispossessed, perspectivally, by our very sociality.” 4 It is with this combination of the body and the voice that the takeover of space bymany becomes a public performing creative tactics of resistance and creating new routines that emerge as a
3. See Achille Mbembe and LibbyMeintjes, “Necropolitics,” Public Culture 15, no. 1 (2003); muse.jhu. edu/article/39984. 4. Judith Butler, “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street,” lecture, September 7, 2011; https://transversal. at/transversal/1011/butler/en.
2. “Staging a Revolution: Can Theatre Be an Effective Form of Activism?” Guardian , March 23, 2016; https:// www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2016/mar/23/ theatre-effective-protest-activism-change-debate.
Betti -Sue Hertz
culture of rage and hope. The social theorist James Jasper has noted, “Tactics are rarely, if ever, neutral means about which protestors do not care. Tactics represent important routines, emotionally andmorally salient in these peoples’ lives.” 5 New performative aesthetics operate within the twin economic drivers—digital social technologies and experience culture— that have spawned a new formof protest as a resistance event. These civilian-generated events of limited duration are designed to disrupt the norms of public space by bodily display through amarch, a rally, a parade, blocking traffic on a highway, or creating human protective barriers when in conflict with law enforcement. The event spills into the personal spaces of bystanders and those on the fringes of the event such as shopkeepers. In the digital realm, bodies seeking justice generate content andmessaging for themediated infosphere, activating attention culture to look in its direction. The corporeality of street protest is amplified through the visual mechanisms of lens-basedmedia dominating the digital communicative field. Considering examples of the choreographies of bodies in activist interventions in the civic sphere and the incorporation of care andwell-being into demands centers corporeality in reimagining amore just world. In an age of digital dominance, the claiming of public space is also an act of resistance to the
5. James M. Jasper, The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997), 237.
22 The Lure of Protest
immateriality and anonymity of algorithmic governmentality. Much has been said about the value of creative expression at protests, especially the turn toward imagery and symbols— both critical and joyous—in vernacular art-making, toward visual signs that combine image and text, and toward the performative agitprop theater, cosplay, parades, and costumes. 6 The role of expression, especially handmade, functions as a counterpoint to the flood of documentary images of the protests that circulate online. The individually crafted aesthetic thing is ostensibly the voice of the protester, who has become amaker of expressive objects. Thesematerial expressions of dissent collectively reveal an aesthetic culture. Oftentimes participants combine craft making with images derived frommass media and popular culture. In some instances, workshops were offered by artists to non-artists— the knitted and crocheted “pussy hats” created for the 2017 Women’s March, for example. Las Tesis, theChilean feminist artist collective, created “ARapist inYour Path,” a choreographedperformancewith a scripted chant performedby thousands of (mostly)women that took place in SantiagoonNovember 25, 2019. 7 Apowerful demand aimedat authoritativepower to eliminate thepersistent rape culture and the repressionofwomen and the government’s lack of action, the flash-mobmass protest performance circulated
7. See https://www.wbur.org/ hereandnow/2019/12/11/chilean-feminist-anthem- goes-global. Las Tesis was included in TIME’s 100Most Influential People of 2020. They were nominated by Pussy Riot.
6. See, for example, Carli Velocci, “Why Protestors Love Costumes,” March 2, 2018; https://www.racked. com/2018/3/2/17042504/protest-costumes.
23 Betti -Sue Hertz
tomore than fifty cities worldwide, fromMoscow to Istanbul. In a unique trajectory, an art collective, inspired by a theorist launching a popular protest performance, traveled across geopolitical space and culture. Las Tesis’s work, inspired by the Brazilian-Argentinian feminist anthropologist Rita Segato, is amanifestation of the tactical diffusion of the aesthetics of protest that I find particularly powerful. Segato writes, “That is why I have been saying, among other things, that for a number of reasons a feminine formof politics cannot be based on principles, but must be pragmatic and capable of improvising, directed to life in the here and now, its continuity and its splendor, despite everything, or—as we say—against all odds. Therefore, and in order to do so, it must always be nourished by what I have called an ‘ethics of dissatisfaction,’ the framework of any good politics and the opposite drive to an ethics of conformity, that ethics inwhich it is more important to be good than to act well.” 8 Las Tesis’s protest translates a feminist philosophical position into a performative political action. It manifests the permeability between themeasured and intentional sphere of art and theory and the public sphere, where urgent political messages are delivered extemporaneously. This popular andmobile intentional aesthetics represents the increasing importance of art, dance, and theater at protests. 9 With its convergence of theoretically informed art-making with popular rhythm
9. In the American context, Waiting for Tear Gas (1999–2000) by Allan Sekula, documenting the 1999 SeattleWorld Trade Organization anti-globalization protests, demonstrates how a protest can be represented in an artwork.
8. Rita Laura Segato, “The Virtues of Disobedience,” 2019; https://www.rosalux.de/en/publication/id/40778/ the-virtues-of-disobedience/.
24 The Lure of Protest
and song expressing the rage against themachine, it resonated across borders, languages, and cultures. “A Rapist in Your Path” features chants, blindfolds, squats, and dance steps, subverting the uses of intimidation tactics by law enforcement into an expression of female defiance repeated on collective registers as it traveled fromone city to another. The strategies of resistance that require basic skill building and the high levels of circulation and diversification prove the relevance of this message for women in cities across the globe. Let’s acknowledge the theoretical underpinnings of the choreographies of protest, the cultural and historical roots of gestures and pragmatic political goals, in the formulation of strategies emerging in different parts of the world, even as they circulate globally. Let’s develop analytical tools for understanding these new configurations in the triangulation of art, theory, and performative aesthetics. 10
* * *
Let’s turn to the work of artists and their contribution to the semiotics of protest as an active, performative, and creative act of public expression, demand, and vision. It is in these qualities of protest that the emergence of new communicative languages is shaping hope on a variety of fronts. The protest as image is itself a trope for the will of a forward-looking and demanding populace that is offering a better alternative or
10. For more on this topic, see Susan Leigh Foster, “Choreographies of Protest,” Theatre Journal 55, no. 3, (October 2003): 395–412.
25 Betti -Sue Hertz
even revolutionary vision in response to a broken political system, a pressing issue, a dire condition, or an impending crisis. Recent anthologies such as The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring and Beyond and The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication 11 have focused on vernacular creativities—both visual and performative—that energize protests or visual representation through lens-based image-making that circulates through digital means fromone locale to another, into a global cacophony of resistance and future-making. What marks the past ten years—from the Arab Spring to Covid-19—are the spatial and temporal intersections and oscillations between the corporeal mass protests of many and the diffusion of tactics through social media. Both of the above are now common to the contemporary protest. The list of causes seems endless—from resistance to state repression, outrage at economic inequities, and demands for anti-racist and anti- colonialist policies; to calls for police reform, gun control, and the end of mass incarceration; to holding power accountable for upholding the rights of women, the TSLGBTQ+ identified, and immigrants; and to voices exposing the existential threat of climate change—and the work ahead is daunting.
11. PninaWerbner, MartinWebb, and Kathryn Spellman-Poots, eds., The Political Aesthetics of Global Protest: The Arab Spring and Beyond (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014). Umut Korkut et al., eds., The Aesthetics of Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication (Amsterdam: AmsterdamUniversity Press, 2020).
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Contemporary art has the capacity to focus our attention in a way that differs fromhow it is presented by various media sources or even perceived through our own experiences. Something profound is lacking and denied to us through mainstreamand commercial coverage. Drone photography regularly shows thousands or millions of people in the streets, providing important data points, but misses entirely the human intention and experience. On the other hand, selfies by participants share personal stories and feelings that flood the circuits. Awhole register is missing from these two extremes— that of people with people, images and experiences of working collectively for a common good, and the will of individuals joining together in their struggle against fraud, evil, and neglect and for health, tolerance, and a livable planet. This exhibition explores that gap and highlights the individual connections within the collective space of themass protest. The works on view in The Protest and The Recuperation were, broadly speaking, inspired bymass protests—as distinguished fromactivist art and activism, per se. Self- identified activists may work in small groups to develop an ideological position that propels them into the political scene. But what can be said for the aesthetics and the performativity, whether visual or gestural, that have become central to themany inspired protests in recent years? The ten artists represented in the exhibition align themselves with the commitment, creativity, and ingenuity of the protestors and reformulate their actions into art forms that, after the fact of the temporality of street actions, maintain
27 Betti -Sue Hertz
a purposeful, sustained “object-ness.” The theorist Oliver Marchart concludes, “Even the art fieldmay potentially contribute to this collective experiment—andmany artists have been contributing to it for a long time with their activist practices. Insofar as art proves to be responsive to the triple exigency of agitating, propagating, and organizing it may easily turn into politics—more easily andmore frequently, in any case, than the functionaries of the art fieldwill admit.” 12 Marchart strongly believes that art made for the gallery will forever be on the sidelines of the real action of protest. This exhibition refutes that position and proposes instead that processing the temporal nature of protest and resituating it within a conventional exhibition space can amplify and direct our attention to the creative cultures that propel their efficacy. It is through these engagements that we can also suss out what is recuperative within the very act of protest. How close or distant is recuperation to the demonstration of hope and resolve as well as the anger and demand so central to the act of protest? In some way, all of the artists in the exhibition approach the recuperation through art that represents and brings into focus—fromdifferent perspectives—a sustaining, emancipatory vision. They uphold our value in, andmovement toward, a feminist future, climate justice, native sovereignty, Black civil rights, liberation and freedom in the face of tyranny, freedom
12. Oliver Marchart, Conflictual Aesthetics: Artistic Activism and the Public Sphere (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019), 41.
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from repression and censorship, release frompolitical violence, and empowerment through rituals resonant with deep, culturally specific significance.
* * *
The works in The Protest and The Recuperation highlight the aesthetic aspects of protest, weave cultural specificities into their tactics, and represent expressions of willfulness and determination. While not created expressly as acts of protest, they are an homage to the corporeal forms of collective advocacy emerging from the populace and to the importance of the call for action that each references. Neither tied to the direct action nor to a journalistic function per se but rather part of the social movements that protests represent, these works amplify actions and infuse them with poetics and the deepening potential of the slow viewing of art. The works do not come together to tell a story or to create a trajectory of actions that envelop hope within rage. Rather, they become a global conversation through visual means. Through these works, the humanity of protests as spaces of creativity, transformation, and self-realization is foregrounded. Through these works, hopes for making a better future in the face of harsh and vicious realities—repressive at best and brutal at worst—aremade visible and actionable. The works share evidence that the artist who is immersed in the protest scene—an insider, a participant observer, a chronicler—is also someone who propels rights and values forward through the syncretic, thoughtful, and conscientious process of art- making. Self-consciously inside history, these artists honor it and its legacies as building blocks for the future.
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