Ways of Protest, an exhibition which demonstrates how art can be used as a powerful expression of the need for change in society, is now available online as a virtual tour. Rachel Mainwaring walks us through it.
Swansea’s Elysium gallery is hosting a major new exhibition which looks at how art can be used as a vehicle for protest and change. Ways of Protest, in partnership with Swansea Museum and Fusion, also studies how activism and a desire for social change can drive individual and collective creativity. Due to the current lockdown in Wales, the exhibition can be viewed online as a virtual tour. Contemporary artworks from Wales and countries all over the world are accompanied by archival artefacts from the vast Swansea Museum collection as well as memorabilia, photographs, interviews, and artworks provided by more than 100 individuals and organisations from Wales. Each work portrays an individual take on how art can be used to protest, rouse opinion and campaign for social change.
‘Ways of Protest’ was originally due to be part of the Change Makers Festival programme, which explores activism and social change through exhibitions, workshops, heritage, words, visual and digital art. The festival is a celebration of people, movements and organisations who have fought for social equality in Swansea and the wider world but due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic it has been halted.
One of the featured artists, Ben Browton-Leamin, lived through and contributed to the protests and attitudes of the punk era. Describing his contribution, a hand-made pin badge, Browton-Leamin said “[the badge is] from my personal archive and dates from 1978 when my punk band, The Shapes, played an open-air benefit gig in Leamington Spa in support of the Rock Against Racism movement. The badge is now showing its age, but shows, in the time of the Black Lives Matter protests, how support for BAME communities was pivotal in the punk era”.
Self-taught Nigerian artist Ekene Stanley says his work “tends to elevate the mind positively”; he aims to deliver a message wrapped up in captivating, well-detailed images, leaving it up to the viewer to unwrap the package and decide on the message.
Asim Abdul-Aziz, a visual artist based in Aden, Yemen, uses his camera to reflect on his feelings as a young artist living in a conflict zone. “The way I captured protesting is through reflecting two women in a destroyed house that was bombed during the 2015 civil war in Yemen”, said Abdul-Aziz. “In this project I am experiencing a different form of protest: I am showing how people in Yemen resist, how we stand against injustice and war by simply staying in our country. The bravery and patience that citizens have in Yemen is protest”.
Kenechi Unachukwu is a freelance photographer currently based in Madison, Wisconsin. Kenechi aims to both tell stories that have not been told and offer a fresh perspective on the things we see daily. “Since the killing of George Floyd, protests in Madison, Wisconsin have occurred daily. While some events are your typical marches and speeches, groups in the city have also chosen to focus on community and educational events. The goal is to show the depth of the black reaction to systemic injustice”, he says.
Argentine artist Julia Justo, another photographer, focused her work on social injustice. “I believe that present social struggles are rooted in the past and that my role as an artist is to give society the tools to resist discrimination and to protest all other injustices”, said Justo, who photographed Black Lives Matter protests in New York City.
Dawn Woolley and Davin Watne worked collaboratively, under the name Hard Stop, to produce art interventions that question the information we receive and notions of truth in contemporary society. Drawing from current affairs in the UK and US, they examine the rhetoric of mass-media, using optical illusions to demonstrate that things are not always as they appear to be. ‘Trickle Around Economics’ and ‘Race, Class Gender’ both featured in the exhibition, present optical illusions as protest placards. They are metaphors for the distortion of information that occurs in media presentations of current social, political and economic events. The ‘Denial Death Cult’ banner presents a didactic illustration of our suicidal dependence on fossil fuels.
Johan Brucker-Cohen and Mark Ramos have utilised Google’s ReCaptcha system in their computerised work ‘To Protect and Server’ to re-appropriate a randomised selection of 30 perceived images of ‘police brutality’ in an attempt to train the population on what is deemed ‘unacceptable uses of force’ by police who are paid to protect the public. “The project is also a metaphor for CAPTCHA software acting in the same way police do to supposedly protect the Internet from malicious content and bad actors but fail the public far too often”, they said. “When a user successfully chooses the images in the CAPTCHA they are redirected to a video of the VR game ‘Police Enforcement VR:1-King-27’, where players can attend a virtual ‘Police Academy’ to train to become a police officer. Ultimately, ‘To Protect and Server’ will train any individual to think like a police officer while taking into account their implicit biases”.
Below is the full list of artists featured in ‘Ways of Protest’.
Asim Ahmed | Phoebe Beckett | Nazma Botanica | Jason & Becky | Beltalowda | Frans Van Den Boogard | Bourdon Brindille | Ben Browton | Hazel Cardew | Louise Burston | Elsa Casanova | Philip Cheater | Michael Cheung | Jonah Brucker-Cohen & Mark Ramos | Lucy Donald | Judit Csobod, Marcela Echeverki & Stephen Donnelly | Plein Le Dos | Angus Eickhoff | Camila Espinoza | Gisela Ferreira | Mark Folds | Virginie Foloppe | Dawes Gray | Amy Goldring | Emily Grimble | Carol Harrison | Vinay Hathi | Thais DeMelo & Pedro H.C | Hannah Jones | Paul Jones | Julia Justo | Ken Kamara | Tim Kelly | Shona Davies, David Monaghan & Jon Klein | Bob Bicknell-Knight | Hannah Lawson | Catherine Lewis | Laura Elisabeth Levick | Peter Lewis | Peter Marshall | Alice Mason | Steph Mastoris | Celia Mora | Karl Morgan | Sarah Poland | Jota Ramos | Euros Rowlands | Fiona Roberts | Si Sapsford | David Sladeck | Ekene Stanley | Ben Steiner | John Thomson | Daniel Trivedy | Vladimir Turner | Kenechi Unachukwu | Undercurrents | Natacha Voliakovsky | Eef Veldkamp | Aisling Ward | Dawn Woolley & Davin Watne | Caroline Wilkins | Ian Wolter | Tess Wood
To experience the virtual tour of ‘Ways of Protest’, click here. For more information and to keep up to date, visit the Elysium Gallery’s website.
(Header image: Vladimir Turner © Eric Legret)