After the first issue on Protest Art came out, the Art Etc. news & views team had a more daunting task in April. We went on to document the Groups, Movements etc. that have played important roles in this largely underground world movement at various times of crises. Protest Art has historically risen from political and social excesses—basically as a voice against authoritative injustice.
Authority can be a discriminating government or a discriminating patriarchy. It is in this context that this issue carves out a niche for itself—with two exclusive interviews ----- the group of anonymous female artists, the Guerilla Girls and the South African Artist, Willie Bester. Bester is known for his reticence, and it was a challenge to get him to speak exclusively to us. And in the process, he has revealed the various layers of Protest Art in South Africa, during and after the apartheid, explaining the significance of some of his best known works, including the Trojan Horse. Born in 1956, this resistant artist, known internationally, visually records the historical events in South Africa. By using found objects, metal scraps and personal items and arranging them Bester creates his art. His art is a subtle comment on the social situations and the history of the coloured people in South Africa. For him the city becomes a site where he seeks out threads of history and makes a collage out of them.
It was also hard to get the Guerilla Girls to talk. Firstly, it is an international group, and the artists involved, some of whom maintain a dual existence of anonymity and personal fame in the same person, choose to remain anonymous, wearing Gorilla masks. But they have been forthcoming, detailing how they have been fighting gender discrimination in the art world since its formation in 1985. It began with the exhibition titled An International Survey of Recent Painting and Sculpture hosted by the Museum of Modern Art where out of 169 artists only 17 were women. Later the Group’s area of protest included women artists of colour as well. The group, working internationally, arranged for protest marches, surveys and used mass advertising media such as posters, stickers, billboards, slogans etc. The members of the group, once they joined, took up pseudonyms preferably of dead women artists. In 2011, the group split into three independent organization as the original group ceased to exist.
Studies in this issue will also include the Chinese Artists protest in 2010, when Beijing saw a demonstration of artists after their homes in artists’ village gallery were demolished. Masked men brandishing iron rods physically harassed them and demolished their houses and studios. This particular patch of land, spread over 4000 square feet of land that houses more than 2000 contemporary artists was resisting urbanization and development within the heart of a very industrialized city. Many of the artists were given long term lease, in many cases 20 years, and most of them invested their lifelong savings in order to acquire a place to work and live. Protesting this event, two dozen artists marched towards the Tiananmen Square. But eventually the police intervened to stop them from reaching their destination. This incident in Beijing was not the first occasion where a demonstration of people venting their frustration against the authority and real estate agents destroying their homes was systematically thwarted. However, despite the iron hand with which the Chinese Communist regime curtails such protests, artists in that country continue to raise their voices undaunted, bringing back memories of the old black-and-white photograph of the nineties of a lone student standing in front of a fleet of approaching tanks at Tiananmen Square, during the students and artists protest movement against suppression by the authorities.
A must read for for artists, art collectors, art enthusiasts and connoisseurs.