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Illustrating Democracy: ‘Reality’ through Art

Art has been used as a tool for expression during movements in history. It has also been repressed and disregarded but if used in its veristic form, art gives a voice to the silenced. So is art the best representation of democracy?

Aviva Baig, Jasmine Singh and Manu Kaushal

‘Guernica’ by Pablo Picasso, called out the Nazi’s inhumane bombing of the town of Guernica. The image features a gored horse which is a representation of the people of Guernica and a rampaging bull that symbolises destruction. The image also depicts screaming women in flames.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

(Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Guernica-by-Picasso)

Artists use histories of cultures to create artwork as a response to ongoing events or struggles. By understanding the origins of art and history we can question the roles that artists play in their art. Since history serves as a kind of collective memory, it plays a role in society. Therefore how you remember your history, shapes your politics, social attitudes and your ‘today’.

When you delve into anonymity, the public space and politics in art, you resonate with the artist on a collective level as it focuses on the struggles or achievements of the public space as a whole. Banksy uses the commonalities between national conflicts as a unified theme for his artwork. Even anonymously, his work leads the spectators to “question the status quo and break habitual views of life as a prerequisite for activism”.

Banksy’s painting depicting “Child Labour” on the side of a local store.

(Source: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/londons-latest-banksy-artwork-springs-up-overnight-on-side-of-turnpike-lane-poundland-7753041.html )

Art and culture together cause dynamic participation of human behaviour which results in a democratic dialogue through which they express values. They stimulate a culture of creativity in the society which provides a strong platform for the artist to create a space for marginalised people. The concept of ‘vision’ and ‘justice’ together symbolises both art and culture. Showing us that art can in fact measure human life by depicting what humans of the time when the art was created, were ‘worth’.

In a time of polarised politics with violence, increased corruption and falling economies and democracies, art has been used as a social weapon to educate, enlighten, advance political awareness and uplift or renew the spirit of the masses. Thus, successful artistic movements become a part of the dominant culture. It can be seen not only by the marks it has left in society but can also by synergy about the same issues that were being voiced in the art. It is not a coincidence that several artists, such as M. F. Hussein have had to flee from their country due to the threats they have received because of the art they had created and how artists such as Peter Kien were brutally murdered for the art he created while witnessing the living conditions in the Terezin ghetto.

When art activists decide to take up issues which include sensitive socio-political issues, it is their responsibility to remain true to the facts and question the very role they play in art activism and politics. For instance Kashmiri Artist, Mir Suhail added elements like bandages spotted with blood to their eyes to call out the inhumane use of pellet guns by the Indian Army which has left thousands of people blinded, injured or killed in the Valley of Kashmir. The artist portrayed Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation and revolutionist who preached and practised non-violence as a victim of India’s violence spoke volumes. Mir Suhail was trying to explain that India was not doing right by the values and foundations the nation was built on.

Mahatama Gandhi’s picture re-created by Mir Suhail

(Source: https://www.maryscullyreports.com/the-political-art-of-kashmiri-mir-suhail/ )

This type of art reflects the inner thoughts of the mind and the entire realm of emotions we feel. When this process is embodied by individuals it triggers a reaction which instils the idea of social justice within us. Therefore, there is no doubt about how art has the power to shift our vision to a more holistic notion of justice. It is this type of art that, as Mitchell, W. J. says, “Captures and perhaps even motivates the widely noticed synergy and infectious mimicry” in struggles of a nation.

Although art is not evidence like established records are, rather art can be seen as an adaptation of how things were or are according to the artist. It is an emotional record rather than ‘official’ which represents the strife of the community at the time. Hence, art may not be the best representation of democracy, but it is an important one.