The relationship between art and politics is long-standing, as the two have always influenced and shaped one another. The importance of art to everyday culture means that it has an ability to reach and resonate with a wide audience. It is extremely rare for an artwork to be solely a reflection of its maker and to bear no connection with the world and social conditions in which it was created. Art can address serious contemporary issues and both support and disrupt the political public discourse.
‘Art is not the handmaid of politics. It is its own remedy! And its healing is sacral.’ - William Everson
Art has the ability to relate to society and politics in a myriad of ways. From participating with and supporting contemporary issues, to sparking debates that make the audience think critically about injustice and inequality. Over the years, the methods which artists have taken to deal with politics within their art have developed and progressed massively, from collaborative projects to documentary, film, activism and archiving.
Street art is intricately connected with politics due to the nature of it being on public or private property. Blank walls in urban areas provide valuable expanses of space that can be transformed by street art, graffiti and murals into a visible protest in a location which is often highly significant to the problems being addressed. The influential street artist Shepard Fairey calls his art propaganda because he believes that ‘any art that defends specific objectives contains elements of propaganda. There is a difference between propaganda in the sinister sense of the word, which wants to have the last word in a conversation, and art that aims to open a conversation.’
Art has huge potential to make changes to the way we respond to politics and enforce necessary social change. Through a limited number of words, Jenny Holzer’s Truism wooden postcards make a big impact, intending to make people aware of the 'usual baloney’ she perceives is prevalent in daily life. Grayson Perry also uses words, with the addition of his characteristic patterning, in his ‘Piggy Bank’, which provides commentary on Brexit. Chinese artists Zhang Xioagang and Ai Weiwei are examples of how artists address pertinent issues in very different ways. Politics and art will continue to inform one another, and we are sure to see further developments in the way artists express their political views in the future.
Zhang Xioagang - VIEW COLLECTION
Zhang Xioagang’s Surrealist-inspired portraits are executed in oil paint. Xioagang is best-known for his ‘Bloodlines’ series, which was prompted by the discovery of an old family photograph album. The figures are stiff and formal and are a means to explore identity, memory, and the effects of the Cultural Revolution in China.
Ai Weiwei - VIEW COLLECTION
Ai Weiwei works with many mediums to express his political beliefs. His open criticism of the Chinese Government resulted in his arrest and detainment for 81 days. Since leaving China in 2015, Ai Weiwei has continued to respond to serious and highly sensitive issues, such as the Syrian refugee crisis.
Shepard Fairey - VIEW COLLECTION
Shepard Fairey’s artistic career has taken many forms, from his design of Barak Obama’s campaign poster for the 2008 U.S. presidential election to his clothing brand OBEY, but has always been ingrained with a motive for social change and political activism. Shepard Fairey painted several murals and displayed wheat paste posters in Detroit, which resulted in him being taken to court for damages. This case brought attention to public art and generated interest in different areas of Detroit.
We have many more political artworks for you to explore here.