1. Hi Asana, thanks very much for your great post! I have a particular interest in art that engages politically. You cover a lot here, and there are so many things I’d like to pick up on, but the most important I think is this:

    Does art with a political subject matter constitute ‘political art’? I suppose the distinction would be that political subject matter is merely derivative, simple commentary by the artist, rather than actually being ‘political’, ie active. Perhaps a good example of the latter is another of Bruguera’s work, ‘Freedom of Speech’, which was performed at the Havana Biennale 2009, which encouraged members of the public to actively speak on stage about anything they wanted to for exactly one minute without fear of being arrested. Although within an art context, this had very serious political ramifications as there really could have been retribution from the state, as well as potentially encouraging further actions of freedom of speech. This piece was actively political.

    A piece like Sheela Gowda’s, while no doubt beautiful, is surely only that. And the danger is that it can be reductive. It could be construed as being representative of all Indian road workers, or even all Indians. It doesn’t allow for complexity, and leads to a fetishisation of a country and its population (this sort of thing is evident in exhibitions like, but not restricted to, the Saatchi Gallery’s numerous shows on art from particular regions). With our increasingly globalised world, and Westminster’s desire to ensure we remain in the middle of it all, we undeniably have a voracious appetite for other cultures. I think we need to be careful we are not simply consumers of these other cultures, but actually engage with them on equal footing.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking post!

    1. Thanks Lena for your comments!

      I understand your point of view about Gowda’s work. Some people may feel the artwork is reductive in terms of its subject matter, but then this is where Alex Corlett’s music becomes important. His piece gives the audience another medium through which they can access the subject matter and find a way of scrutinising its content. Only then can the listener (and viewer of the artwork!) even start to consider geopolitics…and then the role the art gallery plays in presenting these. Perhaps the National Museum can help answer these questions.

      It’s great you refer to Bruguera’s other pieces- having an artist who has exhibited at various international bienniales is so important for Cardiff’s developing art scene.

  2. Nice one! Thanks for the audio. It does make the arts more inviting. I’d travel to the gallery to experience the police on horses, but it seems a long distance from London. Have you got any of the discussions that you can upload for us to listen to?

    1. Hello!

      Thanks for your questions. If you’re based in London, then you’ve got so much art to explore and enjoy on your doorstep! Most art galleries have a public engagement programme to complement their exhibitions. Small galleries such as Raven Row in Spitalfields to much bigger spaces like Tate Modern will have events similar to what is described in my article. Tania Bruguera’s artwork with the horses was actually first performed at Tate Modern.
      So if you want to hear discussion about art – then you can go to Tate’s website, which is very comprehensive:
      – The following link is to a short video you can watch about a Tate Modern project called the ‘Politics of Representation’. It’s a project that explores artistic production and cultural discourse in Africa http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/across-board
      This link will take you to an area of the same website where you can see interviews with the current Turner Prize winnner, Elizabeth Price. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/video/turner-prize-2012-winner-elizabeth-price
      – BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme has some great podcasts you can download about the arts in general
      – and if you want information about what’s going on in Wales, then follow this link http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/arts/sites/local/

      Happy listening!

  3. Elizabeth · · Reply

    Hello Asana,

    Thanks for the explanation it was very clear and very helpful. I suppose people do not always stop and think about the relationship between art and politics and two policemen riding among crowds of pedestrians is very powerful indeed.
    I can’t help wondering if the people in the political art video dispersed because they were afraid of the horses, the police or both.

  4. Well, I was there at the event and there was no information given to us (except at the entrance where we were told that there would be horses in the galleries).
    Most people were confused about how to interact with the police – were they supposed to listen to the directions from the police or not? Some of the situations were quite scary too. For example, the police told a group of people to stand in the middle of the gallery, and then the police charged at the group; with one horse on either side, they directed the group calmly from one part of the gallery to the other.
    But then, that is the point of the artwork – the audience is used to seeing police on horses in protests (of which there is so much archive footage, e.g. the Poll Tax demonstrations, Iraq War etc) and re-staging these situations reminds the participants of what they have seen before, usually in the media. So the artist can play with the audience’s own relationship with these situations and as a participant, invite them to question the situation, the power structures etc.

    Thanks for your comment Elizabeth!

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