Politics and Painting: The Artists’ Vital Role in Rewriting Social Discourse

The artist-led campaign, Artists4Bernie, attracted hundreds of signatures earlier this year, including the support of artists such as Kara Walker and Wu Tsang, before formally suspending his campaign in April 2020. 

Often critical of US imperialism, Bernie Sanders is a rare political figure who many felt they could trust. His opposition of the Iraq war and recognition of the humanity of Palestinians had won the support of people from a range of faiths and social and racial backgrounds. Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign sought to place climate change, economic equality, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration reform, abortion rights, single-payer healthcare and acknowledgement of The Black Lives Matter movement at the core of his manifesto. 

Art and Politics: A Brief History

Although initially considered a mimetic or restorative tool, art has always been heavily influenced by society, politics and culture. Even the most realistic paintings were created to accurately portray the brutalities of war and truth behind aggrandized political regimes. In addition to this, however, art has also been used to bolster propaganda and political ideologies. Stalin described Socialist Realism as being created by ‘engineers of souls’ for its ability to convey the idea of his Soviet utopia. 


Golden Baby, Lorenzo Monegato 

Romanticism vs. Street Art

Arguably the most powerful platform to convey the connection between politics and art is using a more familiar canvas; the streets. In 2017, the enigmatic Banksy’s Balloon Girl was named Britain’s favourite artwork, beating the pastoral scenes of Constable’s 1821 painting, The Hay Wain. Outrage ensued amongst art aficionados; how could something that was spray painted beat a Romantic masterpiece?


Elena Galimberti, La Pera 

Spray Painting Social Discourse: Banksy and the Bronx

For a start, street artists like Banksy challenge the way we see privatised public spaces, where images and iconography are reserved solely for advertisement and road signs. It’s not only the subject matter of Banksy’s work that’s politically charged, but the placement of the piece is integral to its message. Ghetto fo life was created in the Bronx; a neighbourhood with a large ethnic minority that has long felt the pressures of social and economic injustices. These values are often associated with the derogative term “ghetto”, which Banky contrasts with a young middle-class boy being served a spray can on a silver platter. To many non-Bronxites, this image is simply a powerful and humorous satire of street art’s increasing prominence in the esteemed world of fine art. However, when this piece was unveiled on the Melrose wall in the Bronx, it was met with fierce criticism from locals. According to Bronxites, Banky’s piece only reinforced the cultural stereotypes their community had been trying to overcome for decades. A wound that ran especially deep coming from a white, western and now multi-millionaire accredited artist.


Lara Stival, Follow The Leader 

The Power of Painting

Although Bronxites were upset by Banksy’s artwork, it did achieve what street art sets out to do: open up a dialogue between communities. This neighbourhood was the centre of international media, but not to report on the latest gang brawl or bloodshed, rather to give a platform to an otherwise dismissed community. Media outlets wanted to know how the work affected locals, resulting in individual voices finally being heard on what the Bronx actually means to Bronxites. Silenced and uncredited citizens were at last able to paint a vibrant and valuable depiction of their neighbourhood, revealing the beauty of a community usually shrouded by an impenetrable mist of preconceptions.


Stefano Pallara, Wondering Heights N3

Create your own Political Painting!


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