According to Ai Weiwei, “Creativity is the power to reject the past, to change the status quo, and to seek new potential.” On that note, here is another edition of Art and Politics.
ABOVE: Ai Weiwei by Duyanpili, Photo: © Gao Yuan 高远, 2009
No discussion on political art would be complete without mention of the following:
On April 26, 1937, German and Italian planes launched an aerial attack on the Spanish town of Guernica. The bombing – done at the request of Francisco Franco – shattered the city’s defenses, and allowed Franco’s Nationalists to overrun it.
While the number of deaths has been widely debated, the raids destroyed the majority of Guernica, and transformed the sleepy Spanish town into an everlasting symbol of civilian suffering.
Picasso – who was living in Paris at the time – was so affected by these raids, that he immediately began work on what would become his greatest political masterpiece, Guernica.
The mural sized painting was first displayed in the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 World’s Fair, but was later sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Vowing that Guernica wouldn’t return to Spain so long as Franco was in power, Picasso requested that it be temporarily housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1981 – six years after the death of Franco – it returned to Spain.
In the years since its creation, Guernica has become a powerful cultural icon that speaks to humanity not only against war, but also of hope and peace.
In 1985, the Museum of Modern Art (in New York City) held an exhibition titled An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture. Of the 169 artists on display, only 13 were female.
In response to the show, a group of anonymous female artists decided to speak out against the sexism of the art world. They called themselves the Guerrilla Girls, and owing to their new name, they wore gorilla masks to hide their identities.
Since its formation, the group has fought for female artists by making curators, dealers, and even critics accountable. They do this, in part, by producing posters that list the number of male and female artists on display in major museums. Ironically, many of these posters have entered the collections of the museums they renounce.
While the world, and by extension the art world, has changed a lot since 1985, inequality still exists, and because of it, the Guerrilla Girls have yet to hang up their masks.
On May 12, 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the richter scale, rocked the Chinese province of Sichuan. Known simply as The Great Sichuan Earthquake, it killed 69,195 people, and left 18,392 missing.
Amidst the chaos, many schools collapsed, and thousands of children lost their lives. When he visited the area, Ai Weiwei noticed that it was littered with school supplies. Knowing that the buildings collapsed as a result of poor construction, and knowing that the Chinese authorities would attempt to cover it all up, Weiwei decided to create the installation Remembering.
Constructed from nine thousand children’s backpacks, Remembering was installed on the façade of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Germany in 2009. Among the backpacks was the sentence “She lived happily for seven years in this world.” It was spelled out in Chinese characters, and was a direct quote from one of the children’s mothers.
For his outspoken efforts, Ai Weiwei has been beaten (see above photo) and detained. Throughout it all, he has remained defiant.