Protest artists aim to impact their communities: especially in times of great economical, social, political, or civil strife. Protest art practices–traditionally rendered in oils (Picasso’s Guernica), cause buttons, expressed through installation (Ai Weiwei’s Remembering) or performance (think Pussy Riot, not Shia LeBouf)—have begun to expand to new media. Here are four types of social protest art that use unconventional means to help spread their messages:
Placing self-expression where it does not legally belong is a tried and true form of protest that has adapted to the times. Subvertising—the act of parodying or making commentary on an existing advertisement by altering the message—is a popular and effective method of public protest. Classic examples of subvertising include spray painting over signs, and applying stickers or posters to walls. Recently, less permanent forms of transmitting messages, like large-scale projection, have gained in popularity.
In the late 80s, the feminist art activist group The Guerrilla Girls started to utilize traditional advertising formats such as billboards and signs to spread important information about gender inequality. After being denied New York’s Public Art Fund grant in 1989, the group created this successful bus and street ad as a response. (Liz McQuiston, Suffragette to She-Devils).
Adbusters, founded by Kalle Lasn and Bill Schamlz in 1989, use Culture Jamming (a type of Subvertising) to organize international campaigns to express resistance. Describing themselves as a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs, their large-scale campaigns such as Buy Nothing Day or Occupy Wallstreet that collectively show protest against consumerism and capitalism (adbusters.org).
Graphic artist Shepard Fairey also filled the public space with his own messages. At the beginning of his career, he created stickers, posters, and t-shirts, as well as posting his politically-fueled art-activism in areas that were “usually reserved for advertisements and government signage.” (Shepard Fairey: Obey This Film, 2014)
Craftivism is a form of activism that calls on stereotypical homemaking skills to make a statement. One such act of protest is yarn bombing: using soft, bright colored knits or crochets to decorate bleak, usually urban, environments. Craftivism is also takes the form of community gatherings that bring people together for the love of the craft as well as provide an open forum for political discussion.
“Pussy Hats” are a potent recent example of Craftivism. These bright pink, knitted caps, worn by tens of thousands of protesters across the United States, acknowledged President Trump’s sexual assault allegations, as well as his “locker room talk.” Before the Women’s Marches, groups around the country gathered to knit, sew, and crochet the pussy hats. Craftivism can take many forms. Creating these hats was a quiet act of resistance for many, and marching with them was anything but.
Lisa Anne Auerbach, a textile artist who knits everything from banners to pants, has reclaimed a traditionally feminine skill and employed it as an action of political resistance. Her knitted scarf piece Do Ask, Do Tell”counters secrecy with openness,” and encourages viewers to read the knitted words and to open up conversations. (Huffington Post, 2010)
You’ll need a few items to participate in the February 24th mass ritual to “bind Donald Trump and all those who abet him” but if you don’t have them in your home, just Amazon Prime that piece of pyrite or stub or an orange candle. Whether or not you align with the universal powers that be, credit can be given to this innovative way to demonstrate opposition. Remember, it’s not a curse or hex, but a bind to prevent Trump and colligates from causing additional chaos.
In our hometown of Chicago, the group W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) uses “theater, performance, and the powers inherent inside us to demand social justice and equality for all.” The modern day coven has recently performed hexes, protection spells, and rituals in public spaces like the front of Trump Tower or the Heald Square Monument to give light to social justices issues like abortions rights, immigration reform, and housing rights while paying homage to the original carnation from the late 1960s.
President Obama was the first president that had a significant internet presence. And the public reaction to the recent presidential election continued that trend by taking full advantage of social media.
Twitter is a home for a particular mode of passive activism that, contrary to popular understanding, is not just for Millennials. During the election, hashtags from each side trended: #LockHerUp in regards to Hillary Clinton’s email server scandal, and #NeverTrump—originally a Republican call, that has since been adopted by anti-Trump groups.
Everyday it seems the world attaches itself to a new President Trump meme, so much so that people create meme generators so you can participate, too.
Though the election is over, and the new President has been sworn in, hashtags are still a popular medium through which social media users organize, protest, and express concern. CBS’ The Late Show host, Stephen Colbert, recently extended his audience an invitation to retweet an image of a little girl dressed like Trump with the hashtag #Largerhands. The image was in response to Trump’s opinion that “a woman playing a man” in a recent Saturday Night Live comedy skit made White House Secretary Sean Spicer“look weak.”. Though a single tweet is a small act, the cumulative effect of thousands of these tweets directed at the President’s official account certainly sent a larger message.
Whether you’re dipping a toe into protest through meme retweets, or painting a whole mural, it’s your right to express your opinion loud and clear. This is just a quick excerpt from volumes that can be written on protest artists, so if your favorite artist wasn’t mentioned, we encourage you to share your favorite activism artists with us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.