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The power of political art

Art has the power to entertain, but it can also move and provoke. In trying times, artists can use their craft to interrogate systems of power and imagine alternative realities. By questioning norms and bearing witness to human life, art can rock the status quo. With that in mind, we asked our arts & culture writers what political artworks are inspiring them in our current time of unrest.

“There’s a singer, Amanda Palmer, and she’s had multiple bands, like Punk Cabaret-type music. She’s had Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra, The Dresden Dolls, and she’s done solo music. And most recently, she’s released a song called ‘Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now,’ which was about the whole Me Too movement and obviously everything that Harvey Weinstein did to up-and-coming people in the industry.

The video’s really hard to watch, because it’s such a graphic representation of everything that Weinstein did from the perspective of the women he was taking advantage of. And I felt it was a really powerful comment on it, because it came out around the time of the verdict. She has another song that’s about Donald Trump and how terrible he is called ‘Small Hands, Small Heart.’

A lot of the mainstream music coming out right now is just commercialization of sex, basically, but Palmer is looking at it from a completely opposite perspective and saying it’s people being sexually taken advantage of, which is what’s leading them to the positions where they’re able to be massive celebrities and produce such famous music or movies.”

— Jake Gallant

“What comes to mind is Childish Gambino’s song ‘This Is America’ that came out last summer. And I just remember when it came out, everyone was talking about it and having different takes on it. And I liked hearing and seeing all these ideas that were arising from watching this one music video and trying to understand what it was about. That’s what I like: that it’s kind of ambiguous, that you can find different meanings. But there’s a lot of social commentary and critique in that one song.”

— Etienne Fillion-Sauve

“I’d say my current favourite group of artists — or media personalities — who do politically charged work would be leftist YouTubers at large, #BreadTube, and specifically Hbomberguy, Philosophy Tube, and Contrapoints, because they’re doing lots of really intelligent and nuanced and complex (and actually authentically creative) artistic work, but with political theory and philosophy and history to undergird it.

They’re really making hardcore topics and thorny disciplinary areas accessible to a public audience, to an online audience, and bringing lots of intelligence and straight-up cool vibes to the discourse at large. I’m a huge fan; in particular I’ve followed Philosophy Tube’s work from the beginning of his channel, and it’s been wonderful to see him grow and change as I’ve grown and changed alongside him.”

— Jonah Dunch

“The one thing that is completely politically charged that I’ve listened to in the past couple weeks that’s awesome is a song by The 1975 called ‘Love It if We Made It,’ and it’s all about living in postmodernism and the breakdown of democratic institutions but also the breakdown of some kind of perception of global culture. Everything’s so fucked, essentially, is what the whole song’s going off of. So every single line is just another reference to a headline from the past two years. It’s fun to go through and see, line by line, what he’s talking about. But you can, and there’s always a news article for every reference.”

— Nico Larson

“One piece of political art I know is Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica,’ which was inspired by the bombing of Guernica during the Second World War. And I know it’s cubist art, and so it’s very abstract. You have a lot of death scenes in one picture. Very sad. That’s all I have to say. Google it.”  

— Maria Besko

Jonah Dunch

Jonah Dunch is in his third year of a BA Honours with a major in philosophy and a minor in drama. Aside from his work at The Gateway, Jonah writes, directs, and acts in plays. He eats your clicks for dinner.

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