Pussy Riot and other artists on freedom of expression
Democracy is being eroded everywhere, and the obsession that you have to belong to a 'group' eg gender politics pushing people into sides, seems to be fragmenting democracy rather than making it stronger.
Do you honestly think protests for women’s suffrage, worker’s movements and other protests in the early 20th century should be lumped together with NED funded artists like Ai Weiwei and defectors from Cuba? It seems to me like the former are going against Western colonial/imperialist powers, while the latter are doing the exact opposite. Is the art itself the only thing that matters? Or the cause and historic context behind it? I know you’re just looking at the art scene, but at least study the geopolitical history a bit more. Would UK be any freer than Cuba if the EU waged economic and actual warfare on it at the same level as the United States? Did HK have a lively art scene before the handover in 1997? Any protest art coming from the Falklands and other colonies? Finally, if political freedom is so essential to art and creativity, why keep all those Qing dynasty masterpieces at the British Museum? Do you think those art pieces from “Ancient China” are inferior to the oil paintings of semi-democratic UK made in the same time period?
This has really made me think a lot today. I watched Ai Weiwei's film. So moving. Unimaginable courage displayed by those young people fighting for their rights in the face of overwhelmingly crushing and brutal pressure from the authorities. It's hope and despair all in one. I do think that those mostly young people chaining themselves to gantries and slow walking down roads care enormously about their future in this world, and we need to pay more attention to their message rather than crushing them with the force of new laws designed specifically to 'deal' with them. They are telling us truths which we mostly don't want to hear.
My thumb touched “yes” and I mean to vote no!
Your later focus on Ai Wei Wei’s documentary brings back my memories of the Umbrella Revolution almost 10 years ago now. It’s amazingly scary to me how many artists between the first protests and the more recent iterations have been silenced. Filmmakers and painters have moved away...the big music festival was conveniently cancelled during the pandemic then rebranded. Majority of art educators I know have also left or will leave soon.
It serves as a warning to us all. Sure, we can say it’s China, but I think you’re right to show the dangers even in London.
Nice job, and thanks for introducing me to Bruguera's work. I would like to emphasize, however, that "Art" and "Culture" are not intrinsic responses to the Police. "Art" and "Culture" ARE the Police, especially in Britain , and beginning with Matthew Arnold's classic "Culture and Anarchy" , in which Arnold argues that "Culture" is the cure to popular demonstrations. He was referring to a riot that broke out when the Police tried to prevent a meeting in Hyde Park. I think we have to beware of "Protest Art" that co-opts protests themselves and make of them formal abstractions, i.e. protesting for protest's sake, not for redress of specific grievance.
Fascinating piece, and I found the Bruguera piece at the Tate very moving. I had not seen it before. I absolutely take your point about the suffragettes. But I also have great sympathy for the Met (not something I expected to hear myself say ever again) on Saturday, they had to make split second decisions and if they had got it wrong the consequences would have been very serious. Also, the protestors have had more publicity and sympathy now than if they had just held up placards that noone saw.
Thank you for this- a Londoner here (hello!) and very appalled by the police force’s tactics over the weekend. Art is so important I think… as you say it’s not so much the direct effects but the documenting of them. It’s through the artist’s lens or brush that future generations come to know. 😊