When art moves masses: the revolution with a brush stroke
Art is not an inert concept. It has life, that given by those social movements that find their perfect allies to spread their ideas in painting, sculpture or graffiti. Through artistic expression, they claim a transformation of reality beyond beauty, and social art is one that stirs you, which makes you think about what position to take or makes you question a philosophy that until now you considered correct.
These social movements reflect the history of each generation and find their heroes in the artists. You will corroborate this affirmation with these examples that we mention below, and which prove that a painting is not only an aesthetic object. Because whoever has art on their side has the power.
The feminist movement
The recognition of women in those sections traditionally reserved for men exploded in the 70s through works signed by them. The current pattern painting laid the foundations of a doctrine that has been subsequently protected by groups such as the Mexican Polvo de Gallina Negra or the New Yorker La Guerrilla Girls.
Meanwhile, Surrealism brought in some of the most revolutionary women of its time, such as the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, an authentic icon who transferred her influence to the world of fashion and other areas. With her, Dorothea Tanning and Paula Modersohn, famous for her scandalous nude that gave wings to other women who continue to give a voice to millions through their works today.
So, does feminism in art currently make sense? The answer can be found in the productions of some artists who answer "yes". Emerging art professionals such as Petra Collins, who promotes the normality of menstruation or pubic hair; or Ashley Armitage, who in her creations shows cheerleaders away from conventions, with small breasts and not at all sensual underwear.
The Netflix platform offers 'Frida' (2002) in its digital catalogue, a biographical Oscar-winning film. Directed by Julie Taymor and starring Salma Hayek, the film focuses on the painter's relationship with her husband and her controversial reputation for her opinion of politics.
The Reina Sofía Museum in Madrid offers (every Wednesday at 7:15 pm) the opportunity to enjoy an interesting guided tour of the collection 'Feminism. A feminist look on the avant-garde’. The exhibition questions the role and visibility of women in the History of Art through the analysis of women as producers, receivers and subject-object of artistic production. The visit is free.
Las Guerrilla Girls are a group of feminist artists created in New York in 1985 that use activism to promote the presence of women in the art world. Their name comes from their use of guerrilla tactics in all their actions. Dressed in gorilla masks, the group uses humour to denounce ethnic and gender discrimination in politics, art, cinema and pop culture. You can follow the activity of the feminist group from New York at guerrillagirls.com.
The pacifist movement
Pacifism has been present in various cultures since the 18th century. Firstly with figures like Tolstoy or Rousseau. Later with Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. The Vietnam War, globalisation, terrorism ... Art about conflict has permeated the audience generation after generation, thanks mainly to two names: Picasso and Banksy.
The sensitivity of the malagueño was reflected in his masterpiece, El Guernica. Inspired by the bombing of Germany of the town in 1937, this representative painting of Cubism shows pain through the dying horse, the woman with her dead son and the burning house. The dove, the symbol of broken peace, is also there.
Meanwhile, in Banksy’s y graffiti, the top representative of street art gathers the most current pacifist ideas. This artist, whose identity generates a thousand and one suspicions, is the critic of our times and since the 90s has impacted with murals such as the famous girl with the balloons for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and another little girl with a heart-shaped balloon in support of the victims of the Syrian War.
We propose two pieces that offer the viewer a broad view of the 'Bansky phenomenon'. On the one hand, 'Saving Banksy' documents several stories of art collectors who seek to preserve the artist's legacy from external destruction. And on the other, 'Exit Through the Gift Shop', a work not free of controversy that poses an interesting game of mirrors on street art, pop, truth and lies. Both films have become two essential titles for understanding this artistic movement.
The fourth floor of the Reina Sofía Museum hosts the exhibition 'Is the war over? Art in a divided world (1945-1968)', which encompasses more than a thousand works through which post-war artistic transformations are traversed while international geopolitics begins to form that is strained between two antagonistic worlds and systems: the United States and the Soviet Union.
The worker movement
The Industrial Revolution, in the mid-18th century, is the framework of this movement that fights for the rights of exploited workers. Courbet and Millet’s realistic paintings, whose canvases depict nineteenth-century country scenes full of poverty, join Gustave Caillebotte's palette of sombre colours, with those Cepilladores del parquet [Parquet sweepers], bare-chested kneeling workers presented as heroes of yesteryear.
The workers' movement, covered especially by photography (you will not forget that Almuerzo en el rascacielos [Lunch in the skyscraper] of New York, with the advertising shadow in the background), is also painted on walls of thousands of cities by anonymous artists. Some even use labourer techniques for their pieces, such as 3TTMan graffiti, because anger is also painted.
'Novecento (1900)' has become a clear reference. Starring Robert de Niro and Gérard Depardieu, the film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1976 perfectly illustrates the class struggle and accurately narrates the first five decades of the 20th century in Italy. Of course, its length of more than five hours makes it difficult to watch it in one sitting.
'The workers' photography movement (1926-1939)', on which different exhibitions have been organised in Spain, has become difficult to find. We also recommend you watch the documentary that RTVE broadcasted in 2011 on the exhibition 'A hard light without compassion', based on which a book was published by TF Editores & Interactiva S.L.U.
The ecologist movement
The harmonious coexistence of man with nature has become one of the obsessions of contemporary art, driven by the real concern of a mass that witnesses the degradation of the planet. This is a relatively recent ideology, at least in the intensity it manifests today, although we can find historical antecedents in the importance that landscapes acquired in Monet’s impressionist painting.
In this sense, we should mention the Land Art movement, established in the early 70's thanks to a controversial sculpture, Spiral Jetty, by Robert Smithson. Its construction aroused controversy because, far from the good intentions and the beauty of the piece, it was questioned whether it damaged the place in which it stood. Among recent ecologist proposals we find 7,000 oaks, a project in which the artist suggested reforesting damaged areas through artistic expression; or The Rhythms of Life, a chain of sculptures concerning the entire globe. The Culprit? Andrew Rogers.
Fundación NMAC Montenmedio Arte Contemporáneo, in Cádiz, is a unique place in Spain where a dialogue is established between contemporary art and nature in perfect harmony.
'Land Art (Minor series)' offers readers a view of this artistic movement that emerged at the end of the sixties with the aim of transferring artistic work to natural spaces.