Art and Politics

In our 60-minute episode Where Art Meets Activism, Ralph Rugoff, Gary Carrion-Murayari, Manolis D. Lemos, Tania Bruguera, Maria Elena Ortiz, and Maria Alyokhina share their perspectives on issues including immigration, financial reform, free speech, and human rights. In this topical playlist, we introduce three more creative activists. They break down walls and transgress borders, questioning divisions between insiders and outsiders, us and them, self and other, to propose an alternative politics of radical inclusion.

An expanded version of the playlist is featured in Where Art Meets Activism, Issue 6 of our Research Guide.

Mark Bradford Connects Art with the Real World

We meet Los Angeles based artist Mark Bradford—known for connecting art with the real world—when he represents the United States in the 57th Venice Art Biennale. While preparing for Tomorrow is Another Day, an exhibition of his signature layered abstractions, he launched a collaboration with Venice social cooperative nonprofit Rio Terà dei Pensieri, offering employment opportunities to men and women incarcerated in Venice. Titled Process Collettivo, Bradford’s project forges a relationship with this marginalized community that raises awareness of the penal system and introduces a new business model. The project reveals the artist’s strength as a culture maker; he acts on his belief that contemporary artists have the power to reinvent our world.

Original Publication: September 24, 2018 | Sound Editor: Jonathan Pfeffer

Martha Wilson on Political Performance Art

Artist Martha Wilson talks about her political performance art and why she took on the guise of Republican candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 United States Presidential election season. Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist known for her politically charged photography, video, and performance work. She’s founder of Franklin Furnace, an artist-run performance and exhibition space in New York City. Listen to this episode to learn how America’s Culture Wars (see Concepts, below) have sparked her political satire for decades and hear the artist’s impersonations of Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Tipper Gore, and Donald Trump.

Original Publication: November 3, 2016 | Sound Editor: Guney Ozsan

Athi-Patra Ruga on Global Human Rights

South African artist Athi-Patra Ruga talks about the fantastical multimedia performance project that the Bass Museum of Art invited him to present on Miami Beach. Choreographed with local dancers, The Future White Women of Azania is a jubilant ceremonial enactment. The performance makes a vivid statement about human rights. The artist immerses us in the fantastical rituals of a utopian world where all are free to reveal their personal identity. He distances himself from what he considers the drag cliché of flamboyant cross-dressing—opting, instead, to focus on shape shifting. Presented in Africa, Europe, and the U.S., Ruga’s serialized performance always takes place in the highly symbolic kingdom of Azania. Azania was the name given to the southern tip of Africa in 14th-century accounts of travel to the continent. During the Apartheid era, Black activists in South Africa referred to their country as Azania to claim its power as their own.

Original Publication: March 14, 2016 | Sound Editor: Guney Ozsan

Fresh Art Connects

Jahné King, Fresh Art contributor relates episodes in this playlist to her personal perspectives, passions, and histories.

In my heart, this playlist echoes the voice of Tupac. Late, great poet, influencer, and lyricist Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) used his platform to highlight the marriage of art and activism. Embracing this duality, his art puts a mirror in front of society to create a context for future conversations.

The song “Words of Wisdom” appears on Pac’s first album 2Pacalypse Now, released in 1991. In this song, Tupac explicitly reveals America’s deep-seated racism and emphasizes the mistreatment and insidious, systemic marginalization of Black people. In the opening bars, jazzy horns of the Harlem Renaissance float over the bounce of hip hop to lure listeners into a false sense of security. Then Tupac’s opening lyrics hit with the brutal truth: that America is finding “a way to eliminate the problem [troublesome Black youth] one by one.” This sentiment flows through the veins of each verse, monologue, and sonnet in this song. “Look!” he implores in the embedded sonnet—the white patriarchal supremacy that seeps through America’s inception has festered and created its greatest nightmare: Black reign. It is this very idea of Black power and activism that scared the KKK and continues to frighten hardcore white supremacists, casual racists, and bystanders. Holding up that mirror to reveal the ultimate fragility of white dominance paves a way for how we can have effective conversations today and tomorrow. Taking the role of judge in a spoken word interlude, Tupac charges America with rape, murder, assault, oppression, punishment, robbery of history, and false imprisonment. These monumental indictments still ring true, which is how Pac, and other artists, provide us with the answer to the question: “where do we go from here?” Tupac’s “Words of Wisdom” is evoked in this playlist as the featured artists use their platforms to shed light on cultural injustices. From parodying presidential grotesqueness to ridding society of “marginalization,” art speaks volumes, articulating ideas that transcend everyday language. It responds to our need for direction by silently shouting, “this is where we need to go.” Art builds the bridge between the stony road of Black history and the pathway of justice. This playlist charges me to use my poetic voice to speak up; we were born for such a time as this.