Updated: Jul 19, 2020
“The work of art is a scream of freedom.” – Christo, a contemporary British artist.
Art has always had an influence on people's perception of reality and the state of the society they lived in. The French Revolution created a paradigm shift in thought vis-à-vis dissent and highlighted the importance of liberty, equality and fraternity. The 17th and the 18th century were marked by a shift in French artwork. Core values like liberty, equality and fraternity gave rise to the French revolution through art and architecture. Between the 17th and the 18th century, the artists went mainstream and portrayed the exuberant lifestyle of the monarchy. This gave birth to realism in art. Artists like Jacques Louis David voiced their opinions against the monarchy, in their thought provoking works. The fervent hatred of the monarchy depicted in his paintings, acted as a pillar of democracy and spread awareness about the misgivings of the aristocrats. One such painting born out of the French Revolution was Delacroix’s painting called “Liberty leading the people”. Delcroix was a renowned neoclassical painter of the 1830s. His painting was avowed as one of the most inspirational paintings that came out of the French revolution. The painting was renowned for instigating feelings of revolution and was the insignia of the July Revolution.
The French Revolution set ethical frameworks, which were incidentally adopted as central aspects of many countries’ constitutions. However, in countries not so keen of respecting the civilian entitlements emphasised by the French Movement, art became an essential weapon. The media is highly regulated and censored by the government. The Russians took this as an opportunity and made street art their weapon that was mightier than the sword. In the late 80s where dissent could land a person in prison for a decade, revolutionaries took refuge in voicing their opinions via street art. Street art included sculptures and graffiti, Russians incited dissent against a dictatorial regime. They made peace signs throughout Russian cities like Moscow . They created awareness about Fascist regimes, racial institutions and the Government. They used graffitti as a medium of communication between Russian brethren and raised their voice about the war on Chechnya. The 2011 “Snow Revolution” in Russia was partially inspired by street artists. Street art was also used contrarily, when in March 2012, political parties used graffitti to spread bi-partisan sentiments amongst the people. Street art was one of the inspirations for the movement that called for the resignation of Putin. Artists put up installations like trees that symbolized a new era after Putin’s resignation. Young heterosexual and homosexual couples took to the streets and reprimanded freedom. This eventually gave rise to political discourse and dissent.
St. Petersburg also houses one of the most popular street art museums, located in a rundown factory of the city. The factory attracts millions of tourists every year. It is adorned with graffiti on its walls, that was characterised as revolutionary. This museum was started in 2014 by Dimitri and Andrei Zaitsev, with a view to bring about change and movement. The theme is different every year and the 2014 theme “ Brighter days are coming” caught everybody's attention. The factory owners protect the artists’ work and make sure that they do not get apprehended and prosecuted by the disapproving government. Today, when many orthodox Russians fear being European-ised by radical political change, The factory provides a platform for disgruntled artists to express their feelings through art. Orthodox Russians fear for the radical change brought about by this movement and this is reflected in a recent law passed by the Russian Parliament. This law makes street art and public expression, and in extension dissent, difficult. According to the law, the art will have to go through scrutiny by a board before it can be displayed.
Russia’s political cousin, China also happens to ride on the same tidal waves vis-à-vis public expression and dissent. The Tiananmen square uprising terrified the Government and now, regulates the media and distorts facts, so that the 1989 revolt does not inspire modern day radicalism. Today the wall reads,” Mao was 30% right 70% wrong” In contemporary China, Beijing emerged as a center for street artists. In 1995, artists tagged the popular term AK-47 and 18K on walls, depicting the violence and materialism that grew in China. The street art culture is thriving on the streets of Beijing, albeit strict rules of prosecution and vandalism charges. Due to this, there are only a handful of street artists in Beijing. Thirty years ago, artists feared apprehension. Many groups like Camel, now adorn the streets of Beijing spray painting about social causes against the capitalist ideologies and against the dictatorial regimes of the government. The art in China is in contrast to that of the west. The Chinese artists all belong to the middle class and people who can afford the hefty fines by the government. The chinese artists have taken traditional roots and used calligraphy to express their discontent in the city. Today, street art has become government funded and has lost its essence.
The recent havoc in Hong Kong brought several artists to the street spraying. Art works like Midnight Glue, depicts the infliction of injustice over the years. Under the Umbrella movement, the protesters that had been apprehended still face its consequences. They have taken up this opportunity to spray paint “Free the arrested protesters” across the city state. The denizens want to dissociate themselves with anything to do with the Chinese culture. They paraded the street artists put up skits across the city-state portraying injustice of the mainland police force. The Hong Kongers called this street art of the modern times. The protest also managed to use the alt-right meme, Pepe which held a different connotation altogether. Here, pepe held a more sublime symbol of dissatisfaction. Citizens of a totalitarian government find unconventional ways to proliferate information to the masses and street art is that medium.
Europe is adorned with street art and artists are protected under the constitution. Modern contemporary artists have changed the perception of dissent entirely. An Artist from Bulgaria by the name of Christo is of the opinion that art is a scream for freedom. A socialist from the former USSR opines that, an art installation changes the viewer's perception of the natural world. He often encourages the youth to take to the streets and fight for what is important. The modern French artists are of the same opinion and this ideology is reflected in their art works. Art has come a long way and means different things to different people. But, the French are still fighting for what is right through their artworks. The Yellow jacket ( gilets jaunes) movement re-jigged the famous “Liberty Leading The People'' as a modern youth with a Phrygian cap, which denotes a modern youth lead revolution.