Imaginative Protest

How can art respond to Trump?

BY Jennifer Higgie in Culture Digest | 14 NOV 16

In a week in which the US has been rocked with an outpouring of rage and grief against the election of Donald Trump, a quick look at a small sample of recent articles and clips about the current status of protest art reveal that it’s alive and flourishing. All week, artist and writer friends have been talking endlessly about what they can do to effect change. Whether or not their efforts will be able to halt the global march to the right is a moot point, but what they undoubtedly will achieve, is to highlight the fact that the world is far more complex than the cruel rhetoric of reductive politics would have us think. Protest art allows us – encourages us – to imagine that change is possible. What could be more useful than that?

Various responses of artists to the US election result in The Art Newspaper.

The Huffington Post collated a range of artists responses to Trump on Instagram. 

Damon Davis, the artist and founder of ‘All Hands on Deck’, a defining symbol of nonviolent resistance and the Black Lives Matters movement, on Donald Trump: ‘The same shit has been happening for the last 500 years.’

In an unusual convergence, last week, the cover of the UK tabloid newpaper The Mirror newspaper in the UK featured an image by the legendary protest artist Gee Vaucher of the Statue of Liberty with her head buried in her hands – an image that was used by many artists on Instagram, including Wolfgang Tillmans. It was captioned ‘What Have I Done?’

A prescient article in Hyperallergic back in July, asked ‘Can Anti-Trump Artists Make Protest Art Great Again?’

In September in the Guardian, Tim Adams declares that ‘Politically engaged art is thriving again, finding new ways to challenge in a complex digital world.’

Earlier this year in Tate Etc., Nina Power used the exhibition ‘Citizens and States’ at Tate Modern as a spring-board to ask: ‘Can artists respond effectively to social and political upheaval?’
So, what to do now? Founded in the US, the Center for Artistic Activism is a site that aims to ‘help activists think like artists and artists to think like activists’. It includes research papers, clips and online training about ‘basic principles of using creativity in organizing and pitfalls to avoid.’

Main image: Gee Vaucher, Oh America, 1989, gouache, 23 x 23 cm. Vaucher's retrospective show ‘Introspective’ runs 12 November 2016 to 19 February 2017 at Firstsite, Colchester, UK.

Jennifer Higgie is a writer who lives in London. Her book The Mirror and the Palette – Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and she is currently working on another – about women, art and the spirit world.