Learning about Art Through Protest

By Lillian G. ’21

Before taking Art of Protest, I saw art as something that was exclusive to museums and its impact limited to its exhibit. But as the course progressed, and I learned about historical topics such as the South African Apartheid, the early Women’s Movement to #Metoo, and communist China, I saw just how impactful art can be in shaping political and social movements. Ms. Lieberman, who teaches Art of Protest, explains, “I believe looking at the visual arts is a very powerful way to learn about history. I also decided to make the course about moments of protest in particular, as it seemed quite relevant to the historical moment in which we find ourselves today when students feel empowered to fight for social and political justice. And there is a lot of work to be done!” This idea of feeling “empowered to fight for social justice” was very present in our final project, in which we took our visual analysis skills and the art we learned about to propose an art piece to help fight a current issue.

My fellow classmates and I each focused on issues ranging from Graffiti Art in Tahrir Square to Gun Violence in the US. Abby Quigley ’21, for example, found that “there are about 393,347,000 guns in the country and 3 million kids directly affected by gun violence in a year.” Audrey Wu ’20, on the other hand, focused on the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, and for her project, she “proposed a short video titled ‘Venezuela: A Travel Guide.’” Her inspiration for this concept was “mandatory airplane safety videos that the airline must show before takeoff. [Her] video would serve as a perversion of these helpful guides; instead of providing the calm reassurance that the airline has everything under control, [her] video would theoretically have the same format but demonstrate the horrors of military force against protesters in Venezuela. Props used in airline videos [were] replaced by the [appropriate] corresponding tools that Venezuelans need to survive in public protests.”

One thing that many of my classmates enjoyed was that this final project gave them a chance to explore a topic that was new to them. For example, Emma Charity ’21 focused on Trans Women of Color Rights, saying “I chose my topic because it was something that I had heard about but had little school designated time to study.” Her interest in writing about the issue was impacted by “A statistic…that 78 percent of trans women of color have reported having attempted suicide.” Emma proposed “a mural project called the Trans Women of Color memorial project. It would take place in the city or town where the violence against that woman took place and would feature a mural of just the woman’s face and a QR code painted next to it that leads to more information about the life of the victim.” 

Whether we went into the class with preconceived expectations or not, we all left with a new understanding of art and its impact. Eva Fisherman ’21, who focused her project on family separation at the border, thought the most meaningful takeaway from the class was “a wider appreciation for the people and art around [her].” The class taught her “a lot about how we should interpret what we see, and it also really changed what [she] defined as art.” Many of us left the class with a similar experience. Before, we saw art as something just in museums or defined by history, but as we moved through the class, we gained a deep understanding of the power that it holds. We saw how it directly affects movements and found our own artistic voice that can be used to enact change.