Christina Leslie's Portraits

N.L.S., A New Local Space

Deborah Caroll Anzinger's artist run residency and exhibition space in Kingston


Leasho Johnson's Provocative Re-interpretation in 'Canopy Guild'

Light Sensitive

Marlon James' black and whites

Annalee Davis: ON THE MAP

Caribbean Political Documentary

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Art Student and Activism

Anti-Nuclear Posters on a wall on the Kyoto Seika University campus
The wall of posters pictured above is part of the NO NUKES campaign which uses poster design to capture the attention of the public in discreet ways. Each month since the launch of budding artists from the various art schools across Japan, post their designs. The posters can then be printed and arranged as a public art/ wall of protest in various places. I imagine that there are several walls like this one all over Japan and I would love to see them. This particular wall is in an entrance way to a building which houses 2-3 departments and is directly in front of the bench where students and lecturers take their cigarette break.
Campus police at UC Davis campus using pepper spray to remove protesting students

I used the word 'discreet' earlier however because it is a very subtle way of getting the point across if we compare it to other recent school protests. I recently learned about the UC Davis campus protests and the David Willett Cambridge talk protest from comedian Josie Long's set on BBC Radio 4's The Now Show Extra. She described through sarcastic humour her reaction to seeing the videos on YouTube. The first protest provoked the anger of protesters because a group of students engaged in a sitdown protest where unnecessarily pepper sprayed by campus police. The Cambridge students were protesting high fee increases and the UC students were joining the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

The way students have chosen to protest in Japan, with the continuous flow of NO NUKES poster designs and public space interruptions is less overt and a bit more subliminal than their Western counterparts. The manner however is perhaps more in keeping with Japan's non-confrontational culture but in this instance I found it interesting that Art was used as the tool of protest rather than the more conventional methods of marching, picketing and protesting familiar in the US and UK. It makes me wonder about the effect and speed at which the desired change will occur.

The more passive method will seep into the consciousness and it will be carried with you. Due to the website also proliferation and distribution of the posters can occur easily and portably. The more vociferous method will definitely grab more headlines and documentation of it in this age of social media will attract more viewership and discussion however. The method is ultimately appropriate to the culture and the message.
A work attributed to neugerriemschneider addressing the isolation of Activist Artist, Ai Wei Wei 

In writing this post however I am considering what causes art students in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean today are putting their talents to and organize themselves around. I remember working on my final body of paintings for my graduation show in college when a respected lecturer asked me what mechanisms I had employed in my creative language to address current events, socio-political issues etc. Then it occurred to me that Art was not only for individual expression but also useful as a social catalyst. Sometimes in focusing on the gallery system and its market driven practices, considering individual desires can become stronger than societal contributions but activism offers opportunities for creative expression and experimentation in other ways outside of the Artworld bubble. The example of the NO NUKES Movement illustrates how activism need not be considered a distraction apart from main studies but a beneficial aid to development of the thinking artist of tomorrow. Of course Activist Art is an end in itself also and can be an effective way to voice opinions and protest.

What causes are you interested in engaging in using Art? How do you propose we use Art to handle problems with governments and other institutions that we want to change?