This week in Experimedia, Outside-in cinema will be showing the recent documentary on the work and activism (often, one and the same thing) of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Renowned for his courageously outspoken critical work on life in China, and even more so for his unapologetic responses to criticism, his story echoes much of what has been a staple of life as an artist in the face of an oppressive system of government. Extreme examples such as the 1937 exhibition of Degenerate Art in Germany, and the tight reign of the McCarthy era, in which few but the most abstract of radical artists escaped unconstrained.
The control and/or stamping out of artistic freedom is often viewed as a barometer of freedom as a whole in a country and/or society. In the immediate post-Perestroika era, the extent to which this had been the case in the USSR was recognised by the state as being so severe that a mandate was set forth to show life in all its harsh realities. Though such representations had, of course, been a fixture of artists in the area, albeit in ways that were, through their own or the state’s intervention, less visible.
Art often doesn’t shy away from such conflict, of course, and it has long been seen as one of the responsibilities of the creative community to play the fool by holding a mirror up for all to see. Many practitioners within South Africa during the time of Apartheid, such as Jane Alexander, were especially bold, quite aware of the power of their chosen axe.
As always, many books will be available to peruse on the topic of seditious art as you make your way into the film. What’s more, there are countless others in the collection, so if you feel like using your creative calibre to keep a government body in check, don’t hesitate to tap our shoulder. We’ll be all too happy to point you in the right direction.