15 moments of crisis in the world and the answers of the artists

Estimated reading time: 15 minutes
William Kentridge
William Kentridge

The search for a union between art and life led artists to research and promote some concepts and actions that seem crucial to us now: the public starts to participate in the work, leaving a traditional passive position (and, many times, anesthetized or alienated); the collective gains strength; and, the social matters more than ever. Thus, new forms of “social sculptures” are born, in the best way foreseen by Joseph Beuys, as responses to natural catastrophes, health crises and social problems. 

Daniel Arsham
Daniel Arsham


We live in an adversity whose results are still incalculable, but we already know that it will be (already is) devastating. At this moment, it is important and comforting to review how activist artists have responded to other crises – always with beauty and resistance. Some responded to practical problems with the engagement of many or tough and necessary denouncements, while others turned misfortunes into poetry to do what newspapers and communication media are no longer able to do: raise awareness. There are also those who announced an apocalyptic future that seemed distant, but is here and now. We are living in it and nothing better than remembering the power of our creativity to gain strength and follow.

ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH CRISES 

We Shall Bring Forth New Life, de Alfredo Jaar
We Shall Bring Forth New Life, by Alfredo Jaar
We Shall Bring Forth New Life, de Alfredo Jaar
We Shall Bring Forth New Life, by Alfredo Jaar

1.Disasters in Fukushima and region 
the chilean alfredo jaar is known for his installations, photographs, films and community projects that deal with representing devastating events such as genocides, epidemics and famines. Jaar created a memorial for the victims of the March 2011 East Japan earthquake, ensuing tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear incident – an immense tragedy that resulted in nearly 20,000 deaths. The project called We Shall Bring Forth New Life (Umashimenkana) references a poem by Sadako Kurihara (1913–2005), “an extraordinary poet and anti-nuclear activist,” according to the artist. In 1945, Kurihara was living in Hiroshima when the nuclear bomb fell on the city, but she survived. That same night, she helped a neighbor who had given birth to a baby and later wrote this magnificent poem about the need to bring new life, even in the face of immeasurable tragedy. In this work, Jaar pays tribute to her and the dozen or so children who died at their school in Ishinomaki during the 2011 disaster. Sadly, they were misinformed about safety protocols and died when the tsunami hit their school. The artist uses the blackboards he found in the place that, according to the artist, contained the children's dreams.

Remembering, de Ai Weiwei
Remembering by Ai Weiwei
Remembering, de Ai Weiwei
Remembering by Ai Weiwei

2. Earthquake in Sichuan

On the afternoon of May 12, 2008, a magnitude 8 tremor shook Sichuan. The devastating earthquake that left around 80,000 dead – is considered the worst in over 30 years in the country. Many of these victims were children, as around 7,000 schools collapsed during class. The constructions were public and everything indicates that flaws in the works were the causes for the seriousness of the disaster. the chinese artist Oh Weiwei began investigating the case and published a list of the names of the victims on his blog – information that the Chinese government refused to divulge. Then the artist made countless tributes to these children. Among them is the installation Remembering: Weiwei used 90,000 school bags to write the phrase “She lived happily for seven years in this world” in Mandarin on the facade of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich.

Straight, Ai Weiwei
Straight by Ai Weiwei

for installation Straight, Ai Weiwei used 150 steel rebar rods recovered from schools that collapsed as a result of the earthquake. The artist and his team painstakingly and manually retrieved and straightened each beam. 

Sandra Gamarra
Asi en la tierra como en el cielo, by Sandra Gamarra

3. Dam rupture in Mariana 

Interested in researching the genres of portrait painting, landscape, still life and historical or religious paintings) and current social, political and ecological issues, Sandra Gamarra he recently made a series of paintings to discuss the birth of the concept of landscape in western painting and the vision we still have about nature. Among them is Asi en la terra como en el cielo II, a landscape inspired by the rupture of the dam in Mariana, in November 2015 – environmental disaster left 19 dead, 362 homeless families. Gamarra makes an interesting connection between the birth of the concept of landscape in Western painting and the vision we still have about nature. “At the time when the genres of painting emerged, unfortunately, there were already a series of beliefs around nature that reflected in the representation of the landscape and in current problems. For example, the idea that nature is infinite or that nature recreates itself. God created it, it will continue. People don't understand that they need to protect it, because the idea that nature is infinite is impressively rooted in the unconscious. There was also the idea that nature was bad. That it was necessary to cultivate it, organize it, tame it. It was rough, mean, wild, just like the people who inhabited it. Also, there was the belief that God created you out of it and inserted you there. We are always outside, we are not part of it. And there is a peaceful horizon, a place to reach. The landscape is always about to be conquered. There's one here and one there; and the painter and the spectator who is also outside. And this vision of being external to the landscape is very dangerous. When I research all this thinking that goes into the idea of the Western landscape, I realize why we are where we are. There is yet another point: the first paintings were used almost as title deeds. If I own this land, I take my painter to register the territory, because it's mine”, explains the artist.

Chéri Cherin
Cheri Cherin
Chéri Cherin
Cheri Cherin

4. Proliferation of AIDs

 Poverty and health crises in Africa are common themes among artists from the region. Among the most renowned are the Congolese Cheri Cherin which denounces various social and political problems in the country. In some paintings, Chérin highlights the spread of AIDS in Congo and shows us how hospitals are used only by the richest people, while citizens turn to local professionals for medical assistance. Another artist from the Republic of Congo who draws attention to the health crisis (not just AIDs) and also to ecological issues is Cheri Samba.

Chéri Samba
Cheri Samba

With a figurative, direct, humorous and provocative style, Samba boldly portrays a turbulent, agitated and resolutely contemporary Africa. Among the characteristics of his painting, there are comments in French as part of the composition – Samba often uses balloons as in the comics to express the feelings and speeches of the characters. 

Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), de Félix González-Torres
Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA), by Félix González-Torres


Another artist known for pointing to the disease is the Cuban Felix González-Torres🇧🇷 His most famous installation, entitled Untitled (Portrait of Ross in LA), is a metaphorical representation of the artist's partner, Ross Laycock (1959 – 1991). The installation consists of 79 kg of sweets, corresponding to Ross' ideal body weight. Viewers are invited to eat the mints and the decreasing amount equates to Ross's weight loss and pain before his death.

5. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Andrew

Many artists were touched by the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina which caused approximately 1800 deaths, especially in New Orleans and South Florida in 2005. One of the most beautiful projects is Little Music, created by Jorge Macchi and Edgardo Rudnitzky🇧🇷 The collective performance took place on Bayou Saint John, a canal that connects the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchatrian: the artists created 5 pedal boats whose moving wheels set in motion a giant kalimba (a modernized version of the African mbira) installed on the back of the seat. The paddles have teeth that activate the instrument's metal keys like a musical box. In this way, the public itself produced music that brought out the city's strong relationship with the sounds and rhythms linked to African culture. 

Waiting for godot, do Paul Chan
Waiting for Godot by Paul Chan

In waiting for godot, the American artist Paul Chan takes up Samuel Beckett's play to show the "terrible symmetry between the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans and the essence of this work that expresses with severe eloquence the cruelty and humor of human beings as they wait for help, food and a tomorrow". To carry out the project, Chan spent 9 months working with the community and researching artists and activists. During the play, actor Wendell Pierce recites the playwright: “In an instant, everything will disappear and we will be alone once more, in the middle of nowhere”. 

Daniel Arsham
Daniel Arsham
Daniel Arsham
Daniel Arsham

6. Hurricane Andrew
already the american Daniel Arsham he was traumatized by Hurricane Andrew that almost killed him in 1992 and for this reason the theme of his work is always focused on a memory of the present in an apocalyptic future. The fact that Arsham witnessed the strength and fury of nature led him to create installations with shattered glass (as if they had been destroyed by the storm) that form objects such as telephones, computers and cameras destroyed by time, as well as figures protected by fabrics. in the midst of an illusory wind.

Mel Chin
Funded Dollar Bill Project, Mel Chin
Fundred Dollar Bill Project, Mel Chin
Funded Dollar Bill Project, Mel Chin

7🇧🇷 Lead Poisoning in New Orleans

After a few visits to New Orleans, Honey Chin realized that the city most devastated by the hurricane was also plagued by another destructive and invisible element - toxic lead, not only in the soil and in the houses, but in the blood, bones and brains of children. The artist discovered that nothing was being done with the purpose of finding a solution to this health crisis and that 300 million dollars were needed to treat the entire city. As he could not raise such a high amount, he proposed a collective action to make $100 bills: the Funded Dollar Bill Project🇧🇷 The idea is to collect US $ 300 million in artisanal currency, take the amount to Washington and ask Congress to exchange it for real money to finance treatments. The goal is utopian, but the project is directly linked to one of the main functions of relevant art in the contemporary world: creating education and awareness of a problem. By participating in Chin's action, the population – mostly students – learn about lead poisoning, its impact on society and what to do about it.

Mel Chin
Sculpture and virtual reality created by Mel Chin
Escultura e realidade virtual criada por Mel Chin
Sculpture and virtual reality created by Mel Chin
Vírus Mel Chin
Beings from a future time created by Mel Chin

8. Climate change
In 2018 the same Honey Chin “flooded” Times Square with a virtual reality artwork to alert the world about climate change.  Tourists and New Yorkers had the opportunity to experience an installation that virtually took them to a NY completely submerged by the rising tides. It was an eerily prophetic vision of the city overrun by climate change. Chin teamed up with Microsoft to create a unique experience that brought his sculpture to life. wake up, 60 feet high, that would be wrecked rises to the surface of an imaginary Times Square flooded and accompanied by countless ships, creating a nautical traffic jam high above the avenues As you watch, the ships end up stopping and rusting. In parallel, at street level, the public can see tiny plankton and other microscopic marine life floating around – a new ecosystem teeming with life, born out of the catastrophic effects of climate change. , in which the present becomes the archeology of an apocalyptic future.

O Grito, de Edward Munch
The Scream, by Edward Munch

9. Eruption of Krakatoa

One of the most famous paintings in the world originates from a natural catastrophe: according to recent meteorological studies, it has been proven that the famous orange clouds and the apocalyptic sky that appears behind the desperate character in The Scream, in Edward Munch, would be representations of the lavas of the Krakatoa volcano that erupted in 1883. The tragedy also provoked subsequent tsunamis and the result was the death of at least 36 thousand people. After the worst part, a huge amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) hitched a ride on high-altitude winds, and the substance spread throughout the atmosphere. Further chemical reactions with the new “ingredient” increased the concentration of sulfuric acid (H2SO4) in clouds Cirrus, which began to reflect sunlight more intensely. The result was a drop of 1.2 °C in average temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere in the summer of that year and months with the most beautiful sunset in recorded history (the star reached turning purple or lavender in certain regions).

David Koloane
David Koloane

SOCIAL CRISES 

10. Apartheid 

There are many artists who discuss the crises generated by Apartheid in South Africa. Among the central and fundamental figures of those tenebrous years is David Koloane – as a painter, teacher and activist. At a time when black South African artists were banned from art schools and museums and had few exhibition spaces, Koloane founded or helped found community art institutions to fill the gap, and her own work became a benchmark for young artists by combining polemical content and abstraction, aspects of art that are often assumed to be mutually exclusive. The theme of Koalane's paintings was the world around him: the panorama of black urban life, circumscribed brutalized by violence, but vital and resilient. He composed somber images in a smoky Expressionist style, “transforming sociological facts into poetic metaphors and expanding historical incidents into cosmic dramas: as art critic Holland Cotter puts it for the New York Times. It is worth remembering that Koalane entered an art gallery for the first time only in 1972, when he was already 34 years old. At the time, few spaces exhibited works by black artists and even then there were restrictions. Their work was only shown if they produced the so-called “municipality art”: paintings had to follow a figurative style and show scenes of everyday life in black settlements, with poverty “covered” in lively scenes and cheerful colors.

David Koloane
David Koloane

But David Koloane traces his own path and founded, alongside Sandra Burnett and Robert Loder, the Fordsburg Artists' Studios, also called Bag Factory, enabling a racial mixture that apartheid laws would have prevented. stand out today as Kay Hassan, William Kentridge, Sam Nhlengethwa, Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi and Penny Siopis. 

Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi
Mmakgabo Helen Sebidi
William Kentridge
Felix in Exile by William Kentridge
William Kentridge
Felix in Exile by William Kentridge

Sebidi learned traditional techniques of wall painting and ceramics from her grandmother, but it was the interaction with other artists and a politicized environment in Johannesburg that would impact the themes of her works. She developed her own trait and portrays everyday experiences mixed with ancestral wisdom. It shows the suffering inflicted by the apartheid context, especially for black women. Kentridge is one of the most recognized artists in the country and masterfully points out the wounds of the racial segregation regime implemented in South Africa between 1948 and 1994. About the film Felix in Exile, which belongs to the MoMA collection, the artist himself declares: “The films I make are born out of a brutalized society marked by Apartheid. To make this film I used many photographs of people who died months before South Africa's first democratic election in 1994”. It doesn't take a very close look at the frames of the film (above) to notice similarities with what we live in now.

The Dust Channel, de Roee Rosen
The Dust Channel, by Roee Rosen
The Dust Channel, de Roee Rosen
The Dust Channel, by Roee Rosen
The Dust Channel, de Roee Rosen
The Dust Channel, by Roee Rosen

11. Xenophobia and the Refugee Crisis 

The global refugee crisis is an old topic, but it gained momentum in 2015 and began to be present in works at all the most important exhibitions and biennials. Among the most interesting works, it is worth knowing The Dust Channel – a cinematic opera created by the Israeli artist roee rosen presented at Documenta 14 in Kassel. Rosen creates the story of a bourgeois couple fixated on vacuum cleaners. The obsession with cleanliness, however, may have a heavier connotation: see the xenophobic issues that hover over Europe. Armed with a peculiar black humor, Roee Rosen criticizes Israeli society and talks about pleasure and perversion (the scenes in the house are interspersed with sexual fantasies, frames from porn films and interviews). It is also worth checking how artists such as Erkan Özgen, Mounira Al Sohl, Adam Szymczyk and Christoph Büchel dealt with the issue, which still remains serious.

Romuald Hazoumè
Romuald Hazoume
Romuald Hazoumè
Romuald Hazoume
Romuald Hazoumè
Romuald Hazoume

12. Oil crisis in Nigeria

Romuald Hazoume It has a strong connection with the Yoruba people and culture (an ethnic group from West Africa) in which masks are protagonists. With small gestures – positioning or adding one or two elements – it reveals faces and breaks conventions of ancestral knowledge. The sacred masks gain a contemporary air in the best ready-made style when he uses everyday objects such as ropes, funnels and gallons – they make reference to the illegal transport of oil from Nigeria and denounce the danger of this lucrative system for the population. There is also a criticism of the garbage we are producing and depositing on the planet. Hazoumè is also known for the work La Bouche du Roi in which he used the same gallons and other recycled materials to reproduce the Brookes – an English ship that transported slaves in the 16th century. 18.

Theaster Gates
Stony Island Arts Bank Library by Theaster Gates
Dorchester Projects, de Theaster Gates
Dorchester Projects by Theaster Gates
Installation and performance of Theaster Gates during Documenta Kassel 13

FINANCIAL CRISES 

13. Housing bubble of 2008

Bringing together various facets of the arts, urban planning and social work, Theater Gates it is, today, one of the greatest references of the so-called “social aesthetics” or “new public art”. After the housing crisis of 2008, Gates began one of his most famous works, the Dorchester Projects: the artist restores empty buildings in the south of Chicago and transforms them into cultural institutions. The project started with two houses on Dorchester Avenue, called archive house and Listening House, where he promotes a series of meetings with community members using creativity as an antidote to overcome situations of poverty and helplessness. Gates organizes events involving music, readings and film sessions, in addition to promoting dinners – rituals that the artist calls “soul food dinner”. In 2013, the artist bought a bank built in the 1920s for one dollar and turned it into the Stony Island Arts Bank cultural center, which houses an extensive library of records and vinyl linked to African-American culture. The space also houses exhibitions and a residence for artists. The artist also gained prominence in Kassel during Documenta 13, in 2012, when he recovered an abandoned and destroyed house and occupied it with a series of meetings and performances.

Laboratorio de invención social (o posibles formas de construcción , de colectiva), de Gabriela Golder
Laboratory of social invention (or possible forms of construction, collective),
by Gabriela Golder

14. Economic crisis in Argentina 

The successive economic crises in Argentina have already inspired many local artists. Fleeing from a predictable questioning of the fragile value system that forces the population to get used to difficult phases,   Gabriela Golder was inspired by an act of resistance, overcoming and hope to create the video installation Laboratory of social invention (or possible forms of collective construction)🇧🇷 Living and surviving constant economic crises, local factories fail and are taken over (legally) by employees who recover them through a self-management system. The artist investigates the action and films the workers at their craft: hands, faces, machines occupy the main screen, while two smaller videos bring accounts of these workers about their motivations and new working conditions.

Migrant Mother, de Dorothea Lange
Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange

15. Great Depression

Considered the worst and longest period of economic recession in the capitalist system of the twentieth century, the so-called "Great Depression" began in 1929, with the fall of the NY Stock Exchange, and persisted throughout the 1930s, ending only with World War II. The period was marked by high unemployment rates, drastic declines in the gross domestic product of several countries, as well as dramatic reductions in industrial production and stock prices worldwide. During this period, the US government implemented a relief measure called The Federal Art Project: employing about 10,000 artists and artisans – they funded the production of 2,556 murals, 17,744 sculptures, 108,099 paintings and 240,000 photographic prints. In this way, artists could create without basic survival fears. Many of these artists went on journeys through the interior of the country to portray it – there was also a need to identify what the American nation was and highlight it (after all, these were years of world war!). The photographer Dorothea Lange was part of the team and she became famous precisely for portraying peasant life in that period. Among his most famous images is The Migrant Mother, from 1936. Legend has it that it is Florence Owens Thompson, a 32-year-old woman with seven children to raise alone since her husband died 5 years earlier. She would be looking for a job or social assistance to support her family. 



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