Protest Poetics: Art and Performance in Freedom Movements
University of Maryland, College Park
June 24 – August 4, 2018
Faculty: Jakeya Caruthers, Stanford University, and Isaiah Wooden, American University
Social justice is an art form. Throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, artists and activists have recognized how our aesthetic drives–those that inform our relationship to art, beauty, and the richness of experience–are often inseparable from our moral, ethical, and intellectual drives toward justice. Indeed, as history has demonstrated, art is rarely simply a satellite strategy of social movements. Rather, “politics” animate performance and visual art as much as aesthetics inform the actions, words, and events we associate with movement-building and resistance. Too, we find that, beyond the explicit, “formal” business of art and protest, the imagery and icons that populate our everyday lives are also deeply infused with symbolic meaning and practical consequence, and for that reason, are often ripe and constant tools (and objects) of artful dissent.
In this course, then, we will discuss political art that appears in both formal and informal sites of practice. In addition to close study of the form and content of these works, we will also place the art and happenings in historical and theoretical context. In our exploration of these pieces, we will address critical questions about humanity, citizenship, the body, race, gender, feeling, and the simultaneous treachery and power of the visual. With works that include the visual and performance art of black struggle, the protest work of AIDS activism, anti-war art, and even more recent movements protesting racial violence, gentrification, and the prison-industrial complex, we will investigate the fault lines of art and efficacy in the context of political change.