The Art of Protest Part II – Can Artists Influence Policy?

“Art is never chaste…. art is dangerous.” ― Pablo Picasso

In the Part I post I brought some great protest artworks and posters, focusing on current US politics, well as graphic design tactics.

What about “high” art? Museum works?

(Read this about public sculptures)

A. The US Government

The US government tried to deploy fine art – via the CIA (!) to influence politics in Iran. 

What? When? Really? Yes, according to newly revealed CIA documents.

As reported on The Independent, “the spy agency used unwitting artists such as Pollock and de Kooning in a cultural Cold War”.

Jackson Pollock, Mural, 1943. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016

Was this abstract chaos a proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the US?

I feel it would take some imagination as well as historical knowledge
in order to imagine this painting now as a piece of propaganda.


Also, the CIA secretly may have funded Arab art to fight communism – this according to a piece in Newsweek (by Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi – a UAE based writer and founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation).


The US Government is more and more becoming the target of protest art, since 2011; Occupy Wall Street movement artworks tried to “fight the power”:

ows posters for aom

Notice the ironic use of the graphic style once used to promote Barack Obama’s Hope posters (the former most powerful person in America).

I’m still waiting to see how small museums take on the Trump government.
(small museums are the real superheros). 

Meanwhile, President Trump’s entire Arts and Humanities Council quit.

B. Picasso’s Politics

The Spanish government commissioned Pablo Picasso to paint a mural in 1937 (post WWII), and the result was The Guernica. This painting is considered to be the most powerful anti-war painting ever exhibited. 

The Town of Guernica During The War:

During the Spanish Civil War the Spanish town of Guernica was regarded as a major Republican resistance bastion and the epicenter of Basque culture.
These made the town a target for bombing.
On 26 April 1937, German warplanes pounded over Guernica for about two hours.

Picasso’s Reaction To The Bombing:

Picasso had heard what had gone on in his country of origin while he was working on a mural for the 1937 Paris Exhibition.
He decided to desert his original idea and began working on Guernica. The painting depicts the destruction of war on innocent lives – in his signature abstract / figurative style.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 1937. Oil on canvas

A fantastic article by Alex Danchevon on the British Guardian discuses Picasso’s politics in depth.
Danchevon’s main claim is that Picasso had put himself and his art high above any political movement or message.

Still. Picasso was a member of the Communist Party throughout his adult life. He remained neutral during both world wars and the Spanish Civil War. In the 1960s he advocated peace and human rights, in collaboration with Amnesty.
His Guernica – a painting that millions of visitors still come to see each year – delivers a powerful political message. No person can look at it without objecting a war, even for just a moment.

The Guernica‘s Political Appropriation Issues:

Protesters sometime make use of printed copies of the painting, in anti-war and anti-occupation demonstrations across Europe and in Turkey.

In this picture is a man holding a copy while standing beside demonstrators in support of U.S. action against Saddam Hussein, outside of the United Nations in New York City (February 2003). This happened after Colin Powell gave a speech about war in Iraq with the Guernica as his backdrop – which many official have found inappropriate.



pablo picasso quote activism



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