Activism takes on many forms. Currently, the world is watching as thousands band together to call for justice and reform after a white police officer in Minneapolis murdered George Floyd, a black man accused of using a counterfeit bank note, as three other officers stood by idly. In cities across the US and elsewhere, people have taken to the streets, others have donated to organizations, people have lent an ear or been a shoulder to lean on, and still, many have responded with art.
Art has a long history with activist movements of every kind and, in many cases, the art created to spread information and awareness are what linger when the day is done and protestors head home. According to Tate Galleries, the activist art is created to offer a “form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures rather than representing them or simply describing them.” Ai Weiwei, Favianna Rodriguez, The Guerrilla Girls, Shepard Fairey, Paul Nicklen, Nan Goldin, Dadaists, Keith Haring, Diego Rivera, Kara Walker, Edgar Heap of Birds, and many more artists and artists groups have created such currencies through their art, visual and otherwise.
Museums and galleries have highlighted the posters, photographs, poems, and novels that have been the outcome of unrest. Just last year, the Victoria and Albert Museum began collecting artworks and items used by climate change activists to document living history. Earlier this year, protestors at the British Museum made a wooden Trojan Horse used during their demonstration against the museum’s ongoing relationship with BP. Their symbolism and words become a touchstone for those searching for inspiration, resolve, and comfort during uprisings. Old works, like Zoe Leonard’s 1992 poem I Want a President, are revived when society needs a reminder of the steps we’ve made and how much further we have to go. Themes of unity, despair, anguish, love, frustration, and exhaustion become prevalent in works from most any movement and are prevalent in today’s protests.
In light of recent and ongoing events, we’re highlighting works by some of the most influential artists, past and present, whose works are meant to serve an activist purpose. This is in no way an exhaustive list of those that might speak to you and the issues you hold near, but they are a tool in the fight to find common ground, unify, grow, and develop as members of our own communities.
Print by Gary Taxali whose works feature themes of frustration among others.
A silhouette by Kara Walker, whose works reflect issues of race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity.
In his oeuvre, Edgar Heap of Birds often addressed lived experience of Native American peoples.
Nan Goldin began photographing her life in the 1980s and her subsequent portraiture highlighted life within the LGBTQ community, documented the AIDS epidemic, as well as the opioid crisis.
A poster presented by Amplifier Art, an arts organization seeking to boost Grassroots movements
Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist in exile, creates works that centre on social issues and are often critical of the Chinese government.
Formed in 1985, The Guerrilla Girls is an anonymous group of female, feminist artists who worked to highlight sexism and racism within the art world.
Portuguese artist Paula Rego created artworks that portrayed life in Portugal but her series The Abortion Pastels created a particularly poignant image
Keith Haring created works that turned into activist works supporting safe sex during the AIDS crisis.
Nature photographer Paul Nicklen uses his works to raise awareness of climate change and its affects on the globe and the animals that call it home.
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One of our final expeditions at the end of last year was to Antarctica. It is a continent of contradictions. A place that has both challenged and inspired me. An environment with species dependent on massive icebergs and tiny underwater organisms. A continent that is seemingly distant yet so intimately interconnected to all of us. Today, on this 50th anniversary of #EarthDay, I find myself thinking about Antarctica and what the continent will look like 50 years from now. That future depends on the actions we take together, today, to safeguard vital ecosystems and address global climate change. We have to do more as a community to promote and protect the beauty of our shared planet. That’s why I’m excited to announce that this summer, @mitty and I are joining a group of ocean explorers, conservationists, and advocates to launch a new endeavor called @onlyone. Building on the work of @sealegacy and #TheTide, this effort will amplify powerful stories and advance promising solutions to protect our ocean and habitats around the world, including in the Southern Ocean. Learn more by following @onlyone and join the journey launching this summer at www.only.one. #EarthDay2020
A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on Apr 22, 2020 at 9:33am PDT
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Visit the city's tiniest art gallery: Five things to do in Saskatoon this weekend – Saskatoon StarPhoenix
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E.
Whether you’re interested in art, a virtual party, some outdoor activities or cleaning up around the house, there’s a little bit of something for everyone this weekend in Saskatoon.
1. Visit the Free Little Art Gallery
In an effort to help Saskatoon residents share art with one another, Suzy Schwanke has created the Free Little Art Gallery YXE outside her home at 332 Hilliard St. E. Designed in the style of community libraries and kitchen boxes, visitors to the gallery can take a piece of art, leave a piece of art, or do both. You can check out some of the artwork on Instagram @Freelittleartgalleryyxe.
2. Hit up The Bassment’s virtual party
Featuring the music and talents of eight Saskatoon bands, The Bassment presents InTune 2021 — a free online party playing from 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The shows will be streamed live through the Bassment’s Facebook and YouTube pages.
3. Check out local performers
Watch as some of Saskatoon’s performing artists share their work in Episode 1 of Persephone Theatre’s Open Stage, which was published earlier this month. The episode is available to watch whenever you want at persephonetheatre.org and features Peace Akintade, Kathie Cram, Amanda Trapp, Sketchy Bandits, Carla Orosz and Ellen Froese.
4. Have some family fun
The Fuddruckers Family Fun Centre (2910 8th St. E) is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday, weather permitting. Families can practice their skills on the 18-hole Putt N’ Bounce miniature golf course, reach new heights on The Rock climbing wall or take a swing at the Grand Slam batting cages. More information is available at fudds.ca or by calling 306-477-0808.
5. Drop off your hazardous waste
The City of Saskatoon is holding its first Hazardous Household Waste Drop Off of the year on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Civic Operations Centre (57 Valley Rd.). The drop off is open to Saskatoon residents from residential properties only. Products eligible for drop off include aerosols, automotive fluids, batteries, cleaners, light bulbs, yard chemicals and more. Learn more at saskatoon.ca/hazardouswaste.
The news seems to be flying at us faster all the time. From COVID-19 updates to politics and crime and everything in between, it can be hard to keep up. With that in mind, the Saskatoon StarPhoenix has created an Afternoon Headlines newsletter that can be delivered daily to your inbox to help make sure you are up to date with the most vital news of the day. Click here to subscribe.
YK ARCC celebrates 10 years by pushing for NWT art gallery – Cabin Radio
Its trailer doubles as one of the NWT’s only art galleries. Now, the Yellowknife Artist-Run Community Centre is turning 10 years old.
The group, YK ARCC for short, formed in 2011 in a downtown Yellowknife church scheduled for demolition. “There was always something going on,” recalled Métis artist Rosalind Mercredi, owner of the city’s Down to Earth Gallery, who was YK ARCC’s first president.
“I think it was so good to be able to have a space where people wanted to work on stuff and, if they had bigger projects they wanted to do, there was a space to do it. It was pretty vibrant times, I would say, for art.”
Though the organization stayed in the church for less than a year, it has brought art and shows to Yellowknife since. Temporary homes have included an apartment above a Vietnamese restaurant and empty spaces in the Centre Square Mall.
Casey Koyczan, a Tłı̨chǫ artist from Yellowknife pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba, held some of his first shows with YK ARCC’s help.
“It really helped to be able to show work within an environment that was conducive to more of a fine arts aesthetic as opposed to … a coffee shop, or a pub, or something like that,” said Koyczan, who was on YK ARCC’s board.
“YK ARCC felt like it was getting to more of a formal-exhibit kind of feel.”
‘We need a territorial gallery’
The group made headlines shortly after opening a mobile art gallery in a trailer. At the beginning of the pandemic, the team took art to residents by accepting reservations through Facebook then driving the gallery to make house calls in different neighbourhoods.
“Because it’s so small, we might be the only gallery in Canada that didn’t have to close,” said longtime board member Sarah Swan. “It has a limited capacity. We knew we could still operate it safely.”
Yet the trailer’s success simultaneously illuminated what YK ARCC’s members believe is a glaring deficiency in the NWT: the absence of a territorial gallery.
The cost of rent makes it difficult for the non-profit to hold on to one space for any length of time. Many of the spaces that are available in Yellowknife don’t work well for art shows.
“We need a territorial gallery,” former board member Dan Korver said.
That doesn’t mean a commercial gallery geared toward profit, he clarified. Instead, Korver wants a space where artists can show their work and engage with an audience “for art’s sake.”
The Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre is the only large-scale, non-commercial, gallery fitting that bill in the NWT. It hosts two fine art exhibits a year.
“It’s just simply not enough,” said Swan. “There are so many more artists and so much more work out there to show, so many more ideas.”
“We created the mobile gallery in the first place to feel that exhibition gap, but also, we created it to be a piece of agitation in itself. That’s why we called it the Art Gallery of the Northwest Territories.
“It’s really pathetic that our territorial gallery is a trailer. We all joke that if there ever is a real gallery of the Northwest Territories that’s not in a trailer, we’ll happily give the name back.”
Koyczan described obstacles in establishing his career that stemmed directly from the lack of a territorial art gallery.
“Back when I was showing at YK ARCC, it wasn’t recognized by the Canada Arts Council,” he said. “Therefore, when you go to apply for grants and funding … and you provide your CV saying that you showed work at YK ARCC, they check their records and say the show basically didn’t exist because they don’t recognize it as a legitimate gallery.
“I’ve had to work really hard on exporting myself and making artwork that is impactful so that, regardless of where I was located, it would be recognized by people in the south, or around North America, or internationally.
“The NWT needs a contemporary gallery. It’s just holding us back, not having that space.”
‘No GNWT mandate’ for a gallery
In a written statement to Cabin Radio, the territorial Department of Education, Culture, and Employment said it has no plan to create a territorial gallery.
The department said it “does not have a mandate to create physical infrastructure for the arts.”
“However,” the response continued, “the GNWT would be happy to work with regional organizations to see how the GNWT can support their plans.”
Korver believes government involvement in creating an artist-run centre or non-commercial gallery should be limited to provision of funding, so any gallery can remain community-driven and independent.
“We need that physical space, but how do you run it?” he wondered. “Is it better to just provide a grassroots organization – or organizations, maybe there shouldn’t just be one – with stable funding so they can provide those spaces and run those spaces?”
More spaces that can host art are on the way.
Makerspace YK moved into the old After 8 pub this January and is planning workshops and exhibits. The City of Yellowknife expects to open a visitor centre in the Centre Square Mall that would include art displays.
Meanwhile, the territorial government is set to release its updated NWT Arts Strategy this June. The previous territorial arts strategy, released in 2004, had identified a need for more arts spaces.
As a gallery owner, Mercredi said she is curious to see how the strategy is implemented.
“You can make a strategy but if the plan doesn’t have an implementation idea behind it, then really just sits,” she said. “How do you implement it when most of the arts organizations don’t have enough infrastructure or people to put those things together?”
Swan said YK ARCC will continue to run its mobile gallery while celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. Members have applied for funding to run a series of “emerging curator workshops.”
“Art is our passion,” Swan said. “I think there’s just this drive to share.
“Because we know how good art can be, or how amazing and fully developed it can be, we want to fight for that. We want to try to grow the art community in Yellowknife.”