Art is resistance. Resistance can be defined as “the refusal to accept or comply,” and artists, by their very nature, question what is and why. They dig beneath the surface to get at the human essence.
Throughout our history, art and artists have resisted oppression, violence, injustice, and inequality. Today, at an unprecedented moment in geopolitics, the work of public artists is amplifying activism, resistance, and solidarity like never before. As people head into the streets to voice their views—in the largest numbers in our history—public artists are giving color, context, vision, weight, and unignorable presence to the broad social movements that the protests represent: the demands of people who have been marginalized, and mainstream Americans too, for recognition and justice.
Artists are also raising their voices. Along with dozens of institutions and art professionals, artists including Kara Walker, Danh Vo, Ken Lum, Mark Dion, and Paul Chan signed a petition against President Trump’s first executive order calling for a temporary ban on entry to the United States by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Christo ended his longtime Colorado project as an act of protest against the Trump administration.
While the above slideshow is not an exhaustive list of today’s protest-related artwork, the artists and projects featured here are among the most recent examples of how artists are supporting, and in some cases fostering, protests, strikes, and boycotts across the country. From artist-made signs created for the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March, to the mirror shields at Standing Rock, artists are underlining the essence of art as resistance.
At the same time, artists are facing unprecedented challenges: they’re being interrogated at our borders and attacked globally. Recent reports show a doubling of attacks on artistic freedom and artists’ rights since 2015 across the world. The oppression and censorship of artists is troubling and impacts us all. Undeterred, and understanding the risks involved in speaking out in public space, public artists put their careers, their safety, and sometimes their lives on the line to fight for change.