Artist Ai Weiwei On The Ingredients For Effective Activism

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By Jordan Riefe for Truth Dig – In 2003, artist and activist Ai Weiwei landed a plum commission from the Chinese government: designing the Beijing National Stadium (the “Bird’s Nest”), which became a symbol for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The government’s decision was in part due to Ai’s unique vision, honed by a decade of living and working in New York’s art scene, but it also might have been an attempt to mend fences. Ai’s father, poet Ai Qing, was a dissident who spent roughly 20 years in exile until he was reinstated following the death of Mao Zedong. Ai was raised in the dire conditions of a refugee before finally moving to Beijing in the late 1970s to study art. Although jailed by the Chinese government in 2011 for his political activism, this experience hasn’t stopped him from speaking out for human rights. In a recent interview in Beverly Hills, Ai discussed a number of subjects, including his new documentary, “Human Flow,” an intimate and epic look at the refugee crisis spanning four continents. His current refugee-themed art installation, titled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” went up in New York City on Friday to coincide with the movie’s opening. The film opens in Los Angeles on Friday. Here, Ai tells us why “America First” represents the worst of America, and offers a peek at the ingredients of effective activism.

People Of Color Fight For Place In New York’s Money-driven Arts Ecosystem

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By Maya Chung for The Indypendent – A small number of legacy arts institutions are sweeping up vast shares of public art funding, while newer immigrant and ethnic arts groups in New York City are clamoring for the remaining resources. A new coalition of artists and advocates is pushing the city to increase access to arts dollars for those who have been left out. The group has put together a 17-page document called the People’s Cultural Plan to serve as a set of policy recommendations for the city government which, if implemented, would more definitively benefit smaller arts groups — often grassroots organizations run by immigrant or minority artists. The document comes in response to a cultural plan unveiled by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in July 2017. Called CreateNYC, the plan aims to “serve as a roadmap to a more inclusive, equitable, and resilient cultural ecosystem, in which all residents have a stake.” Those behind the People’s Cultural Plan argue that CreateNYC isn’t doing enough. And access to funding is where smaller groups suffer. According to CreateNYC, in fiscal-year 2017, $111 million of the $177 million Department of Cultural Affairs budget was granted to just 33 large institutions. These organizations are members of the Cultural Institutions Group, made up of culturally significant, generally well-established public institutions. This imbalance of funding comes at the expense of smaller, often immigrant or minority-run arts groups, which then face stiff competition for the remaining resources.

Poignant New Artwork Shows Little Boy Peering Over U.S.-Mexico Border

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By Lee Moran for The Huffington Post – “Is this boy looking over the border worried that if things get crazier on the other side, people will massively cross the border in his direction?” A street artist from France has created a thought-provoking piece of art on the U.S.-Mexico border. JR shared a snap of his new work in progress ― an enormous portrait of a young boy playing on the Mexican side of the border ― on Twitter on Wednesday. The striking image has since gone viral on Reddit.

Artists WIthdraw From Israeli Sponsored Cultural Event

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By Staff of BDS – Following a popular campaign across several countries in a matter of days, nine acts have withdrawn from the Pop-Kultur festival in Berlin due to sponsorship by the Israeli embassy. Send a letter of thanks to these principled artists for standing in solidarity with Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. Young Fathers were among the latest to withdraw, recalling their “long history of opposing any form of hatred including racism and anti-Semitism” and their support for “a peaceful solution that allows Palestinians the right to return to a safe homeland and that allows Israelis and Palestinians of all faiths (and none) to live together in peace.” Sleaford Mods announced their manager Steve Underwood would withdraw from a panel discussion at the festival. They join Syrian artists Mohammad Abu Hajar of Mazzaj Rap and DJ Hello Psychaleppo, Islam Chipsy from Egypt, Tunisian singer Emel Mathlouthi, UK artists Annie Goh and Iklan feat. Law Holt and the Finnish band Oranssi Pazuzu. Thurston Moore, who performed at Pop-Kultur last year, tweeted in support of these principled artists and urged the festival to withdraw “Israeli embassy sponsorship in solidarity with Palestinian call for cultural boycott.”

Delivering Art In The Empire

Cuban artist Reynier Leyva Novo weighted history

By Hiroyuk Hamada for Counterpunch. It’s been over a couple of decades since I left the DC area. For the bulk of the time, I was like a soldier whose sole mission was the exploration of visual expression. I literally woke up with art and went to bed with art. But at some point, perhaps, my skill in finding connections among visual elements, in finding a profound perspective, started to show me a wider reality beyond the framework of commodification, consumption, hierarchy of financial power and capitalism. I am an artist who believes that the power of art can connect us to a larger framework of humanity spreading beyond the corporatism, colonialism and militarism of the empire. I believe art can capture the rare moment of our consciousness, seamlessly merging with the eternity of time and space as a part of the universe itself. For me, museums that house the epiphany of humanistic expressions are sanctuaries of our consciousness; they are that of shrines and churches for the believers; they are that of sacred grounds for those who seek humanity in our connections to nature and earth. Art can give us humility to be human, as well as courage to be human. The unfortunate attempts to replace our sanctuary of consciousness with a subserviency to the neo-feudal hierarchy of money and violence must be renounced in the strongest terms.

Caged: Life. Beyond. Bars.

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By Staff of Caged – Chris Hedges has taught in America’s most elite universities, including Princeton, Columbia, and New York University. It was a class at a Maximum Security Prison, however, where he found “more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity… than in any other classroom…” In Hedges’ class, 28 men collaboratively wrote a play in which the drama of their lives, so often portrayed by others, is finally told in their own words. Inspired by their exceptional talent, Hedges promised that he’d share their voices with the world and—somehow, someday—mount the play. Now, over three years later, Hedges, along with, Boris Franklin, the only writer who has been released from prison to date, are planning to premiere “CAGED” at The Passage Theatre in Trenton, NJ, during their Spring 2018 season.

Radical Art, Sweet Potatoes & Mainstream Parades

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By Eleanor Goldfied for Occupy – The People’s Climate March was this past weekend and roughly 200,000 people descended on Washington, DC to walk along Pennsylvania Ave, past the White House and up to the Washington Monument where speakers and musicians worked the crowd in a festival like setting. And while the energy brought in particular by indigenous and frontline communities was powerful, the march felt very much like a parade and as Dissentralized Organizer Jimmy Betts put it exemplified the “messterpiece of NGO-dom.” While the Climate March garnered most if not all the media attention, the day before, activists picketed and protested outside of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – calling for an end to the blanket rubber stamping of dirty energy projects including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Even further outside the media gaze was the Uptown Art House, a flat structure community art space where indigenous, borderlands undocumented, black, white and everyone beyond and in between gathered together to create art and share ideas and inspiration. This compilation serves as a platform for the people involved in the building of movements, in fighting the frontline battles and in walking the walk.

Artivism, Creativity And Political Change In Spain

Members of No Somos Delito (We Are Not a Crime) staging a street performance with placards that read: “fear”, “impotence”, “repression”, “justice”.
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By Esther Ortiz for Equal TImes – “With the 15M movement the need arose to develop innovative ways of protesting and fighting in order to rally indignant citizens who were not activists, people who were ready to take to the streets but not in the traditional way. That is when the collective imagination emerged to mobilise them,” recalls Mónica Hidalgo, spokesperson for No Somos Delito, literally ‘We Are Not Crime’ in English. This citizens’ platform bringing together over 100 collectives came into being in 2012 in response to the first draft of the Penal Code reform, immediately followed by the Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana (Public Safety Law), both of which came into effect in July 2015.

Dario Fo: Ideas That Outrage

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By Colin Revolting for Red Wedge – Dario Fo, who died this past week, was a great playwright of the years of unrest and rebellion in the 1960s and ’70s. His plays such as Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! were hilariously cutting critiques of life under capitalism as it went into crisis. His style of theatre was like a Brecht play performed by the Marx Brothers in the age of TV. They even became long running hits in London’s West End.

Art And Revolution: Black Power At 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival

Anti-imperialism march on African Liberation Day, in Washington, DC, in a photo taken in May of 1974. (Photo: Risasi Zachariah Dais)

By Kathleen Neal Cleaver for The New Press – 1969. Algiers. The spectacular panorama of the first Pan-African Cultural Festival transformed the North African capital basking in the July sun. Musicians, dancers, horsemen, poets and painters, writers, filmmakers, scholars, and political leaders filled the city’s hotels. Southern African freedom fighters and veteran guerillas from Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau at war with the Portuguese joined the colorful delegations arriving from all over the vast continent.

Protest And Survive: Reclaiming William Morris From Britain’s Nuclear Fleet

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By David Mabb for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – The HMS Courageous is a 285-foot, nuclear-powered submarine that saw service in the British Royal Navy for about two decades starting in the early 1970s. Decommissioned in 1992 after, among other things, participating in the Falklands War of 1982, it now resides at the Devonport naval dockyard in Plymouth, on the southwest coast of England, where visitors can tour its inner workings free of charge—provided they book in advance and bring their passports for “security” purposes.

Using Public Art To Narrow The Gaps

Artist Francisco Letelier with students from the Latin American Youth Center in front of mural at American University, Washington, D.C.

By Staff of Inequality.org – On September 21, 1976, agents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet carried out a brutal assassination in the heart of the U.S. capital. Orlando Letelier, a vocal Pinochet critic and leading thinker on global economic inequality, was killed in the attack, along with Ronni Karpen Moffitt, a 25-year-old American colleague of Letelier’s at the Institute for Policy Studies. Forty years later, this tragic event continues to stoke the flames of activism for social and economic justice around the world. One of the people who picked up the torch is Orlando’s son Francisco Letelier.

The Zapatista’s CompArte Art Festival In Images

Mexican artist David Arias Dijard creates wooden action figures depicting folk heroes, such as deceased EZLN fighter Comandanta Ramona (L), Mexican 20th Century revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (C) and EZLN spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos (R). © Ryan Mallett-Outtrim

By Ryan Mallett-Outtrim for New Internationalist – Over a thousand artists gathered in San Cristobal, Chiapas in July to attend the alternative art festival, CompArte for Humanity. Supported by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), the festival drew 1,445 artists from 45 different countries and from every continent. The aim of the festival was to promote art as a way to create dialogue across social movements, and as a form of social and political expression. Over the course of the week long festival, from 23 to 30 July, dozens of artists spoke out about the political, social and cultural messages of their art.

Who Uses Puppets For Political Protest? Meet Elliot Crown

The 'Fossil Fool' at the People's Climate March
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By Joan Brunwasser for Open Ed News – I make highly theatrical puppets, employing familiar cultural icons, to spread progressive ideas in the mainstream and alternative press. It’s a formula. Since any artwork is open to interpretation, mainstream corporate media images can often SHOW what they will not, literally, SAY. I call it the “art loophole.” And I think most journalists privately lean left and are glad to publish a progressive image if given the chance. I operate in that space.

The Artists And Activists Who’ve Aimed At The Roots Of Injustice

#IdleNoMore protest on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, 2012 (photo by Andre Forget, QMI Agency, reproduced with permission from publisher)

By Alexis Clements for Hyperallergic – A few years ago I was covering a panel discussion for Hyperallergic featuring members of Gran Fury, an ACT UP affinity group focused primarily on producing what group members themselves called “propaganda” against a government hellbent on isolating, vilifying, and smugly looking on as tens of thousands of their citizens died of AIDS. There were a number of young people in the audience at the event and more than once the hand of one of these audience members rose to ask how they could do something similar — how they could employ similar tactics and ideas in political struggles happening today.