Art, like terrorism, is ambiguous.
Everything depends upon your perspective.
The use of art to convey a political message has been around a long time. Political cartoons have a long history but were never really considered art until underground comics made the scene in the late sixties. The underground newspapers of the sixties that were a staple of the political and cultural revolution taking place often featured undergound comics and underground comic books could usually be found at the same shops that sold the newspapers.
The Dada movement was essentially an anti-war movement using art to express itself. Groups such as Artists for Peace continue to advocate peace through art. Expressing political and cultural messages through art is not new. However, many artists are beginning to see themselves as activists and consider their art to be political advocacy.
A recent art exhibit in Baghdad unveiled an oil painting by Muayad Muhsin entitled Picnic which was intended to portray American arrogance. The painting features a smug Donald Rumsfeld sitting back relaxing amid a vortex of symbolism.
"Rumsfeld's boots deliver a message from America: We rule the world," Muhsin said, "It speaks of America's total indifference to what the rest of the world thinks."
Muhsin's painting is a non-violent expression of anger at the American occupation of Iraq. Rather than acting, Muhsin chose to express his anger through his art. So, in this case, art replaces action. I imagine that Muhsin hopes his painting will evoke a strong emotional response from those who view it.
Much of what I consider to be activist art is designed to provoke powerful emotions in the viewer and the disturbing sculpture named The Ozymandius Parade by Edward Kienholz of Idaho and Germany certainly fulfills that purpose. Click on the link under the picture above for a better view of this bizarre work of art.
Leonard Horowitz describes the sculpture in his book, Kienholz: A Retrospective:
Kienholz's Nazi-American war-lord straddles a debiltated Judeo-Christian skeleton. In his hands he controls an electromagnetic signaling device as well as the beckoning symbols of these religions.
Scott Bieser, an illustrator, was once an activist in the Libertarian Party but grew weary of the backroom maneuvering and political opportunists. He decided to quit the party and pursue his political vision through art and education. Science fiction writer L. Neil Smith suggested the idea for the poster Socialism Is Forever and Bieser proceeded to design it with illustrations of various socialist tyrants and political prisoners pictured inside the letters.
Michael Woolard started to create art as a hobby using enamel paint on glass panes applied with toothpicks. Over a few years, Michael created a series of these paintings - all with strong political overtones. Palm Beach Blues features the portraits of a few famous tyrants and the words "bureaucrats decide" appear in the background.
Woolard, disgusted with the trend of American politics, decided to merge his art hobby with his pent-up activist urges and formed Draloo Arts. He had his series of paintings printed onto postcards which he sells to independent bookstores and individuals from his quirky and fun website.
I highly recommend his postcards. They are a cheap way to support the arts and provide an excellent way to send disturbing messages to elected officials.
This article contributed by Tom Blanton of Richmond, Virginia.