The Voices Of Radical Art
By Parisa Esmaili
It was cheap and opened the art world to millions. Designed as an easy way to develop and distribute social viewpoints on contemporary issues, Radical or Political Art, has been a successful tactic in the activist culture since the 1930s.
Radical art is strong and opinionated, and anything one draws has a definite message. However, the value of aesthetics and form goes hand in hand with any message, so radical art attempts to assume the, “tool of enlightenment,” said Stephen Duncombe, a professor of media and cultural studies at the Gallatin School of New York University.
On Tuesday April 24, 2007, the CUNY Graduate Center held a panel discussion on the meaning of radical art in an activist and resistant culture which included Duncombe, who is also an author; founder of ‘United Graffiti Artist,’ Hugo Martinez; Curator at Creative Time, Nato Thompson; filmmaker and world renowned graffiti artist, SKUF; and Nicole Schulman, an artist and editor of World War III Illustrated and Wobblies: A Graphic History.
“Sometimes we don’t know what the hell is going on in the U.S. and art is an interesting way to inform in journalism,” said Nato Thompson. Radical Art is not, by any means, a new form of art. Its recent popularity has grown because the art has increasingly begun to speak the, “exact language and desires of what our society sees and need,” Duncombe explained.
The covers of Schulman’s comic books, World War III, for example, have always had strikingly descriptive cartoons pertaining to their topics such as, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, and a number of Iraqi covers, including an illustration of the holy Golden Mosque in Samarra (60 miles outside of Baghdad) that had been bombed. Other covers included uranium poising, different cancers, women’s rights, and George Bush. World War III has been producing radical cartoons since 1985.
In recent years, radical art has made its way to the street, exposing the rift between graffiti versus street art. SKUF, a tagger turned ‘clean’ said, “to be honest I don’t know how politics correlate to graffiti. Graffiti is about respect. If you see my name, then you know who I am when we walk down the street. It’s not about any political war, it’s a war of ownership. It’s about turf.”
“Kids aren’t into government and political bullshit,” said Martinez, “They’re into inventing, being heard … creating a culture.” SKUF, Martinez, and other taggers agree graffiti is the act of destroying private and public property and bringing attention to one’s self, and nothing else. While street art is destroying property, the art is assumed to make a statement.
Tagging, “Blood ain’t easy, but it sure is fun,” “New York Taliban killers,” “Kill Muslims 9/11,” and “Sirdripsalot,” are examples of street art, no matter how disturbing the context may be. Graffiti entails one’s name tagged differently or in some instances, the names of gangs are tagged. “Call it capitalist if you want, but writing my name and people who use aerosol as aesthetics to ‘make a statement’ is completely different,” SKUF argued.
The tarnish of America’s national and global perceptions is not something taken lightly to many people, and radical art is a way to, “break the barrier of what an artist is,” Martinez said. Our culture has become embedded with politics that we may not particularly agree with and this is one highly influential way for people to speak out.