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The political correctness of art

12 May 2014, 11:46Obidike Okafor

Dakar - Art often speaks in political tones, aside its aesthetics, and this was brought to fore during the presentation of Mirjam Westen, a curator of the Museum Arnhem in the Netherlands at the round table sessions.

In her presentation titled “Arts and Politics,” the curator said that as a curator and writer, she always looks for ways to address and investigate problematic issues in society through her engagement at the museum.

Throughout her presentation she gave examples of artists whose works made political statements that have drawn the attention of governments and challenged certain political and societal beliefs.

Tracing a map across continents, Westen starts from South America and talks about Regina Galindo’s performance work titled "Who Can Erase the Traces" made in 2003, in which she walked to the presidential palace in Guatemala, dipping her bare feet at intervals in a white basin full of human blood to protest presidential candidacy of Guatemala’s former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.

In March 2008,  to protest against the “booming” industry of private prisons used by private citizens to hold illegal immigrants into the United States by private citizens, Regina  Galindo, her husband and two year old daughter were locked up in a mobile prison for 36 hours at the Art Pace gallery in San Antonio Texas in a performance titled "America’s Family Prison."

Westen then moves to the orient and Chinese artist, Ai WeiWei, who was jailed by the Chinese government for using his performances to expose corruption in his country before heading to South Africa to talk about the photography and videos of Zanele Muholi, a lesbian artist whose body of pictures, titled  "Face and Phases" address the way black lesbians are raped in South African townships and surrounding areas by friends, neighbors’ and sometimes even family members in order to "cure" their homosexuality. Muholi also uses her art to expose the fact that there is no anti-hate-crime legislation in South Africa.

Westen then retraces her steps to Europe, where she talks about a Russian collective called Chto Delat which means “What is to be done?”

The collective consists of artists, critics, philosophers and writers who combine art with political theory and activism.

Still staying in Europe she ended her talk with Rory Pilgrim’s "Love in Uganda," a performance and installation centered around a piece of music aimed against the anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda.

In February 2010, Anglican cathedrals around the world were asked to play the music during their services, in which  a  community sheet of telephone numbers of those with relevance to the bill, including the mobile number of Uganda’s president.

Uganda passed the bill in February 2014, but according to Westen, the significance of arts in politics can never be taken for granted, and cannot be ignored.

- News24 Nigeria

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