Conflict and Activism
Location SOAS Senate House - S113
Date and Start Time 03 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Garry Barker (Leeds Arts University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

The activist nature of drawing supports an argument that is political, whether embedded within sites of conflict or used to speculate and free imaginations. Drawing can question the authority of dominant discourses and direct it's audiences to think about ways to construct both thinking and seeing.

Long abstract

Drawing is presented as both sites of resistance and as a process for reflection on the possibilities of generating change and how reflection itself can be problematic and itself reveal awkward power relationships. An exploration of drawing practices in relation to inner city realities that cover a wide geographic area, including Washington DC, Indian mega cities, northern English towns, Berlin and South American sites of resistance. The embedded nature of various material drawing practices and how these are communicated, documented and archived is then reflected upon as to various political, social and other contextual concerns and questions are asked as to the viability of drawing practices within a contemporary context.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The District Arts Palace: Artist-activists negotiating space, politics, and action in the age of Trump

Author: Siobhan McGuirk (Goldsmiths University of London) email

Short abstract

This paper explains how artist-activists use public and private spaces in Washington, D.C. to foster debate, develop political ideas, build community, and create new visual cultures. Tensions arising in the context of capitalism and gentrification pose challenges but also generate new possibilities.

Long abstract

Following the election of President Trump in November 2016, Washington D.C. has become a focal point for high-profile rallies. While important, these large-scale actions often obscure the long-standing and ongoing work of activists and artists within the D.C. metro area. In this paper, I address the quotidian activities and internal debates of local groups that maintain and create space for art-based social justice action within the challenging context of rapid gentrification. Across D.C., posters, stickers, banners, and projections interrupt the visual horizon, transforming the built environment into a canvas of dissent. These protest objects are designed, made, and distributed through networks of local activists—many of whom help run private meeting and organizing spaces wherein the production of visual materials overlaps with in-person debates over political aims and strategies. The District Arts Palace (DAP) is one such space—an unused commercial building first leased by large NGOs to build floats for a major rally before being relinquished to local artist-activists. Drawing on ethnographic data collected over the past year, I address tensions that have arisen within artist-activist circles in D.C., including how anti-capitalist groups negotiate reliance on foundation-funded NGOs and well-connected individuals for access to resources—from printers, paints, and canvasses to space rental fees. This tension is exacerbated by existing divides between long-term residents and area newcomers, and by the rapidly increasing cost of living that is pushing low-income individuals out of the city. While challenging, I argue that these frictions are generating new political and creative possibilities.

Artistic expressions in India: from the people to the people

Author: Valeria Lauricella (South Asia Institute, Heidelberg University) email

Short abstract

In today's India different artistic forms of expression connect the artist-citizen-ethnographer to specific urban 'sites and labs' of investigation and production. In particular, Art Activism shows evident social outcomes as well as significant findings for contemporary anthropological researches.

Long abstract

The 'ethnographic turn in art' taking place always more firmly from the 1960s, acquired renewed value and meaning thanks to a simple but revolutionary idea conceptualised by H. Foster in The Return of the Real (1996). By addressing 'The Artist as Ethnographer' the author identified essential elements of commonality between art and anthropology: studying alterity and culture in determinate contexts among interdisciplinary fields, both practices eventually pursue their self-critique in complexed theoretical terms.

Contextualising the research in various Indian contemporary artistic environments, the paper asks: what has art done for society? How does anthropology intervene in the discourse?

The initial theoretical speculations will be further analysed with interesting examples of Street Art in today's megacities of India: proper considerations on the citizen-artist-ethnographer will be explored in a fundamental relationship with the anthropological site-specific work in the opened urban reality.

In addition, the study investigates principal concerns of Art Activism in the subcontinent: the colourful range of different artistic forms of expression selected will demonstrate crucial themes and concepts according to the interpretive anthropological methodology adopted.

In particular, the attention focuses on the sites of artistic production and activist intervention as 'fields and labs' (R. Sansi, 2014) of investigation. On one hand 'community art' can be understood as mark of cultural identity and on the other political subversive models are explained by 'problematizing the minor in art' (D. Achar, 2002). Final comments regard women art as the most representative socio-cultural agency within the current discussion on gender in the country.

TrainWreck, or The Failures of Infrastructure: Reflections on a Creative People and Place project

Author: Anthony Schrag (Queen Margaret University ) email

Short abstract

This reflective text considers the 'failures of infrastructure' from the perspectives of a practitioner involved on a 6 month community art project funded by Creative People and Place. It asks what the ethical pitfalls such failures might engender - and who might take responsibility?

Long abstract

This reflective text considers the 'failures of infrastructure' from the perspectives of a practitioner involved on a Creative People and Place funded participatory art project.

It is presented from the point of view of a practitioner, and uses a single project to act as a microcosm of the practice in general, and encourage the field as a whole, to take stock of how we're working with people, why we choose this way of working, and to what end: it asks us to reflect on the various ethical pitfalls that can occur when participatory projects are insufficiently planned - and have insufficient infrastructural support. It asks to what extent responsibility can be taken when things go wrong - and who should take this responsibility: the artist, the cultural organisation, or the governmental policies that set up such structures in the first place?

It is relevant to - and explores the intersection of - the fields of cultural policy (i.e., government/organisations), cultural management (arts organisations/institutions) and cultural production (i.e., artists/communities) as it concerns the infrastructure that links those fields together. It looks at the implementation of governmentally funded public art projects in practice, and argues that there are ethical ramifications to a lack of suitable and sufficient infrastructural support

Drawings of stories told

Author: Garry Barker (Leeds Arts University) email

Short abstract

A presentation of drawings made in response to being embedded within a community development organisation. These drawings are both objective drawings and large scale narratives based on conversations held with local people together with reflections on being part of a community organisation.

Long abstract

In response to walking and making observational drawings in a multicultural area to the north of Leeds City centre, a series of large scale narrative drawings have been made that attempt to articulate the feelings, fears and ideas that emerge from a mixed community of people that has been having to come to terms with an idea of a post-Brexit idea of what it is to be English or to live in England as an immigrant.

These drawings operate as allegorical narratives, their spaces bend and distort as viewpoints change and the discomfort and disorientation of what is going on in people's minds is reflected in the spaces in which images are realised. In particular 360 degree photography will be used to take an audience on a journey through one of the finished drawings in order to develop an understanding of how these drawings are evolved.

The Voids in the Archives as a Critical Practice

Author: Annette Maechtel (Universität der Künste Berlin) email

Short abstract

The paper revisits the voids and missing representations of the heterogenous group Botschaft e.V. and their activities in post-Wall Berlin as ephemeral and indeterminate practices dealing with regimes of power in a specific historical context.

Long abstract

The contribution revisits the heterogenous group Botschaft e.V. as an example of spatial and cultural practice in post-Wall Berlin (1990-1996) in regard to their representational practices. The group opened up on a temporary base social spaces for music, exhibitions, discussion, workshops and/or lectures as alternatives to existing educational, music and art institutions and markets. With the distance of more than 25 years, it appear that not much has been historized in form of catalogues, documentations or other forms of representation. This is generally explained, by the fact that this was the time before digitalization and a chaotic situation, so that there was neither time nor opportunity to document. Following Derrida, historizations and archival procedures always go hand in hand with regimes of power, which is why only certain "configurations" or narratives, historiographies and productions of knowledge are perpetuated whereas others are not taken into account. The paper wants to reconstruct the missing representations as ephemeral and indeterminate practices dealing with regimes of power and being concerned with questions of exclusion and inclusion in the context of (re-) presentations of history in a specific historical context. As nowadays registered voids in the archives they challenge in recourse to Foucault the "two bodies" of the archive and elucidate the distinction between archives in the plural as an institution of deposited knowledge and archive in the singular as an archival method.

Arts-based research practices and the political imagination

Authors: Ruth Kelly (University of York) email
Emilie Flower (University of York) email

Short abstract

This paper discusses what it might look like to approach research as an artist might approach making art, drawing on research in Uganda and Bangladesh to identify how using arts-based techniques and materials can help to disrupt dominant paradigms and enlarge the space for the political imagination.

Long abstract

This paper discusses how approaching research as an artist might approach making art can open space for groups of people to negotiate emerging proposals for developing or adapting political systems. In July 2017, two groups of academics, artists and activists met in Kampala, Uganda and Dhaka, Bangladesh to explore how art can help us imagine and inhabit new ways of being, feeling and knowing, as part of a bigger project trying to articulate and explore political utopias/alternatives. With notable exceptions, much literature on arts-based research methods discusses what is discovered through a reading of the final product, rather than what is discovered through the process of making art. In this paper we explore the disruptive power of behaving like a researcher and an artist, in research that seeks to allow dominant political and economic structures and conventions to be disentangled, shaken, upturned, interrogated and new ideas to emerge. We identify a number of practices common to artists that we feel could help researchers/participants to know and notice differently: embodied cognition; falling in and out of work; noticing what's there not what we expect; deference to expertise and skills; and working without a goal. The techniques and materiality of arts-based methods can help participants to inhabit alternative epistemological standpoints. We explore the tension between the depth of insight obtained through expertise in one approach and the range of epistemological perspectives that can be experienced by experimenting with many.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.