Can art be a political statement?
2022 is the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March here in the UK. That kind of blows my mind as was happening before I was even born. Whilst we have made progress in ensuring equal rights and reducing stigma and the associated bullying, harassment, and assaults here in the UK it is definitely still a big issue that still needs campaigning about 50 years on.
So this year LGBTQIA+ month has a theme of art and politics. They have chosen 5 artists that represent different times and topics. These are Keith Haring, Doris Bragahm Hatt, Fire de Henriquez, Jean Michel Basquiet and Mark Aguhar.
Now I personally know very little about art. Do I like it yes/no? That is far as my mind goes when looking at art. So I thought I would google and have a look at some of these artists to learn a bit more about them.
#Doris Brabham Hatt (1890 – 1969)
Images of Doris’s artwork on google showed me what I would have thought were very modern-style paintings. Really would not have linked these to the early 20th Century (probably shows my ignorance of art history big time). I love the boldness, the bigness, and deceptive simplicity of many of her paintings.
A couple that struck me are ones called ‘The Horses Mouth‘ and ‘Birthday‘. Doris spent her youth at various art colleges in the UK and spent time abroad in Vienna and Paris. I love the way she explains her paintings:
“Order had been bought out of chaos – that life, after all, is not so difficult as it seems. This will give you a sense of power and well-being as you study the picture”.
Wouldn’t it be good if life was like that? Doris was a socialist and feminist, a lesbian who lived with her partner, which was seen as scandalous by the society she lived in.
I think I would have liked to have a cup of tea with Doris, gone to her art classes, and voted for her when she stood as a political candidate in her local elections.
#Fiore de Henriquez (1921 – 2004)
Fiore was predominately is known for her sculptures of people. There are not many of the sculptures I saw that I particularly liked, although the ‘Portrait of Sara John’ is one I would enjoy in my lounge as a piece of art. A search for images of Fiore shows me a striking flamboyant androgynous-looking person. Indeed there is a biography called “Art & Androgyny – The life of Fiore de Henriquez” by Jan Marsh. A book I will be looking out for when I browse second-hand shops again in the future as their life has struck me as more interesting than the art itself. Having lived through WW2 whilst assisting Jewish refugees to safety, escaping through a toilet window whilst being interrogated and cooking pancakes for the Nazis, winning sculpture competitions only to have them destroyed because she was seen to be a woman (although hermaphrodite) and becoming a British citizen who went on to work with many famous people such as Oprah Winfrey. Fascinating indeed.
#Mark Aguhar (1987 – 2012)
It does not seem right that anyone who was born 10 years after me is now not with us anymore. Having died in 2012, only months away from finishing their arts degree, Mark has left a lasting impression as an American activist, writer, and multimedia artist. Topics included gender, race, and beauty.
This quote I found on Wikipedia from Mark captures the essence and the importance of art and politics. Why it matters that everyone is able to be represented in order to create a harmonious world where everyone is accepted and ‘normal’ is not defined by the press, politicians, law, or religions.
“My work is about visibility. My work is about the fact that I’m a genderqueer person of color fat femme fag feminist and I don’t really know what to do with that identity in this world. It’s that thing where you grew up learning to hate every aspect of yourself and unlearning all that misery is really hard to do. It’s that thing where you kind of regret everything you’ve ever done because it’s so complicit with white hegemony. It’s that thing where you realize that your own attempts at passive-aggressive manipulation and power don’t stand a chance against the structural forms of domination against your body. It’s that thing where the only way to cope with the reality of your situation is to pretend it doesn’t exist; because flippancy is a privilege you don’t own but you’re going to pretend you do anyway.” — Mark Aguhar
The saying ‘art reflects society’ fits perfectly here, and I think it’s really important we recognise that the experiences of these artists and their contemporaries who also identified as LGBTQIA+ were not the same experiences as other people who did not identify this way.
For more info about LGTB+ History Month check out the website.
And for more info about the artists check out the references below.