The exhibition Forms of Resistance shows that ‘art and resistance’ are both timeless and universal. Although politically engaged works often put content first, this exhibition shows that art is an outstanding method of transforming content using form.
The exhibition draws on four historical events: the Paris Commune (1871), the Russian Revolution (1917), the Prague Spring (May ’68) and the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989). This division does not pretend to be historically exhaustive but shows how resistance through the centuries has been repeated and revived, and has not been merely limited to social problems of a national nature. Socially conscious artists are often part of a larger movement or organisation, such as the Futurists, Constructivists, Bauhaus, Atelier Populair, Brigadas Ramona Parra or the Angola Committee in the Netherlands. There are also photograph and video collectives, which were particularly prevalent in the 1970s and highlight abuses on every continent. Other people, such as John Heartfield, Adrian Piper, Hans Haacke, Valie Export and Sanja Ivekovic, work alone. Marco Scotini’s Disobedience archive, which contains a collection of manifestations of civil disobedience, provides a social platform for related yet independent forms of protest all over the world.
Artists and graphic designers have emerged as idealists, accusers, underground activists, guerrillas, anarchists or propagandists at key moments throughout history. Forms of Resistance shows how artists through the ages have used their talents to react to society. Through the explicit political and social context of their art, citizens and governments are addressed directly. It is not so much an act of artistic recognition as a political protestation or an open declaration of sympathy. In wanting to change society, sometimes these actions go too far, and artists take considerable personal risks.
The exhibition has been put together by a team of curators: Will Bradley, Phillip van den Bossche and Charles Esche.
The English-language publication Art and Social Change, a Critical Reader (Afterall Books and Tate publishing, 2007, ISBN: 978 1 85437 626 8, € 30) accompanies the exhibition. It is edited by Will Bradley and the director of the Van Abbemuseum, Charles Esche.
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Forms of Resistance has been made possible in part by a contribution from the Mondrian Foundation, which was created to stimulate visual arts, design and cultural heritage. The project has been carried out within the framework of TRANSFORM and with the support of the European Union’s Culture 2000 programme.