The Art of Protest
As the pre-occupation with an alternative culture becomes an act of rebellion against the main stream trend, subsequent involvement exposes us to a consciousness bubble in which all the ideas and mentalities of the scene, reinforced by the popular media within it, become a path of living which is rewarded by kudos and capital in the social sphere. Definitive counter mentalities to the main stream normality emerge as key elements in the alternative crowd, and often with political arguments forming groups of like-minded thinkers within specific communities, art and political messages easily become fused into a tool for protest.
For an artist to use their work to make a political point, they must accept the sacrifice of the people who do not agree, as political thought can be very territorial when it comes to taste and fashion. In other words, something can lose its cool very quickly if the politics involved are against the grain. We all have different ideas of what is right and wrong for the places where we live, and art makes a great method of delivering our ideas to a wide audience without being boring or over everyone's head. A simple diagram or cartoon strip in print or online, about an important subject, can increase awareness on a much larger scale than a small pamphlet left at the library.
An interesting documentary was on BBC Radio recently, about sedition and punk art which deliberately attacked the image of a head of state in Malaysia. Punk as a scene has been very vocal in the political world, with both left and right wing ideas to high extremes growing from both poles of the same crowd. In the way the ideas differ, the styles of music and dress sense differ too, and the imagery used by each side of the subculture can often be quite different. A political divide isolates one half of the crowd, and it's not only punk that has embraced this side of art. Folk has been a source of political discussion and inspirational sound tracks to counter capitalism movements for some time, meaning it's gained an image of being for socialist jumper wearing beer drinkers.
Sedition is when someone expresses an opinion that directly encourages a revolutionary spark, or blatantly goes against national policy. In some countries sedition is a crime, and so art must be used responsibly in this situation. A passive approach of designing deliberately away from the cultural trends, but staying clear of any form of counter policy expression can be enough to ensure alternative thinking takes place without fuelling the possibility of harm. In many ways, the entire point of alternative media is that it is raw and uncensored, with little regard for rules and regulations. The commercialisation and standardisation of an alternative culture results in it becoming non alternative, or even main stream, which is a deadly blow for the underground social capital in any established cultural movement. It can take a while for the trends to forget and for the alternative scene to forget too.
Using art to make shocking images and gut wrenching depictions of the raw truth enforces the idea that something is happening and it is not good. By delivering often complicated truths in a simple way, perhaps even with a sense of humour, it allows people to identify with problems in the world that perhaps are too abstract to deal with properly. Art is also used as a passive aggressive tool to undermine the personalities and ideas of opposing people and parties, and it can become quite viscous and personal. In this realm of using art as a weapon to hurt, a line is crossed in which something meant for good is being used for bad.
Finding a balance between expression of the truth and deliberately disturbing people with horrors or character decimation is important for any protest art, having good moral foundation behind the message is the only way it will stand the test of time and critique. If hypocrisy or lack of integrity are found in a political argument, then it is mostly considered void.
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