Nouveau Art: Finding Inspiration in Politics (Opinion)
I recently visited a very simple art exhibition in my hometown featuring Ahmad Zaki Anuar, a well known local artist. As habit goes, I've always prefer to go to such exhibitions during weekdays where there would be no crowds to jostle my time in appreciating a painting or having to hear them making nonsensical comments or worst, depreciating the art for lack of understanding and connection to the pieces themselves.
The witticism of Zaki is that, he loves to use figures such as the beauty of naked human body, everyday objects, buddhism, local fruits and even postures of traditional dancers as metaphors of expressing his creed, humourous intake on life and sometimes even his political view.
And as I was passing by a 4 feet high charcoal drawing of a leering looming 'badak sumbu' (Sumatran-rhino) I had a tickling thought of how relevant is art in modern times, in relation to its essence of having aesthetic values and the connection with gritty sullied politics.
Can original thinkers at the intersection of art, politics, and truth-telling help us connect the dots between the complicated issues facing the nation?
Or does the mixture of politics and art lead down a dangerous path to censorship and political correctness?
Since the thought was more complicated than my usual musings over a cup of coffee, this warranted a more deeper look into the subject on top of... more cups of coffee.
And the question is excitingly interesting as the connections between the two are seldom asked. Not surprising that the relationship of art and politics in a "marriage of convenience" often has the general public as well as art historian and critics to view this subject with wariness and suspicion.
How might art become integral rather than peripheral to the widespread challenge that affect not only the production of art but its reception as well, particularly in light of the deleterious effects of reactionary, conservative and fundamentalist politics on all world social formations today?
The answer it seems, is knottier than my dried pasta because the truth is that the political challenges facing the contemporary artists, is to regain and redirect a multiplicity of social and historical narratives into arts that invoke the people.
Thereby art, should be an investigator of its own political condition.
For instance an artist should combine environmental and ethical concerns of a place for the execution of his work. An effective example is Justin Carter's Stavanger (2008) (Pedal power for Bybrua) where he mixed the images of a cyclist, a torchlight and unicycle to promote a lighting system for a bridge in Bybrua that feeds off the energy of the cyclists peddling over the bridge. The photo is simple yet the message is effective as it not only encourages energy sustainability but also human ecology.
And art can never be a prisoner of politics and theory.
Why? Because creativity flourish during times of uncertainty (take for example Dali's the enigma of Hitler or Picasso's Guemica) and politics fortunately being the most volatile game men love to risk and play. Thus the situation of uncertainty is space for itself because as Maurice Blanchot, a writer once said as long as the world has not yet come altogether into its own, art can always reserve a place for it there.
This reminded me of Shauna McMullan's Travelling the Distance (2005), where she received a comission from the Scottish Parliament to make an artwork to commemorate Women's suffrage and the importance of women in Scottish political life.
The artwork is a collection of 100 handwritten sentences made of porcelain, displayed on 3 panels. Each of the 100 women was asked to write something about a woman they felt had made a significant contribution to life, culture or democracy in Scotland.
And of all the art which was politicaly infused, my favourite would be Lisa Oppenheim's The Sun is Always Setting Somewhere Else, which comprised of slide sequence of 15 images of photographs of sunsets taken by soldiers in Iraq held up to obscure the view of a sunset in New York.
A vision of glowing sunset is more familiar to us on Hallmark cards and as an icon of romance rather than war momentos, is Lisa aiming to inject the idea of gloom, hopelessness and despondency into romantic sunsets? Or is she trying to provoke and transcend us into witnessing the last inspiring sunset that seems to dissapear behind the unethical war in Iraq?
Brian O'Connell commented on Lisa's work, "The result is a mixture of political and aesthetic critique that seems, if through nothing but its being a 35mm slide show, to evoke a not-so-distant past in which 'bringing the war home' was an equally pressing concern. In this case, however, the immediacy of such a project seems overwhelmed by blogs from the front and held at bay by the Romanticism not only of the image, but of a project which is thoroughly tangled up in mediation".
Should art be a tool for political activism and propaganda? or should they just be aesthetically beautiful? That would of course bring us back to the million dollar question: What is the function and purpose of Art
I love art be it a painting, photograph or theatre - in any expressive medium as long as it questions me out of the comfort zone of leatherback chairs and the continuous input of sometimes nonsensical garbage-driven contents of television programmes.
In art there is no antogonist trapped in the materialistic game of surrender and defeat. The relationship of art and politics should set-off a dialogue in questioning one's claims of truth, into our respective worldviews ultimately to ask us to respect the integrity of our mutual differences.