Politicizing Art

Politics and art have always overlapped, from as early as Michelangelo’s work in the Vatican, which was commissioned to depict the Catholic church’s views, to the 1930s when Diego Rivera’s mural The History of Mexico recalled the Mexican Revolution. The 1943 iconic image of Rosie the Riveter by the US artist Norman Rockwell will forever be etched in pop art history to recall the role of women during WWII.

Today, it seems that some artists, masquerading as activists, have left behind all semblance of taste and gone for the shockingly vulgar.

Two examples of artists to have played this card are Brett Murray and Joshua Monroe.

Murray painted an unflattering portrait of the South African president Jacob Zuma in 2012, while last year Monroe presented an uncomplimentary sculpture of the then US presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The result was a field day on social media: instant notoriety, an outcry by loyalists of both political figures and a very dark stain on the arts.

However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t authentic artists making a political point without compromising on taste. Last year at Art Berlin, the chilling installation of thousands of used life jackets of 14,000 refugees, by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, was probably the most powerful statement of the plight of the refugee crisis facing the world today.

Hence, it begs the question: how far do we entertain this departure of taste by artists playing the political card? 

Do we exercise their worst fear – ignorance – on social networks?

My recommendation is a resounding “yes”.

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