Creative Work: Purpose, Protest and Passion

Shades of gray. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Creative Work: Purpose, Protest, Passion

(and not necessarily in that particular order)

Recently, an ACT UP activist reminded me of the purpose of our creative work and our responsibility to create a certain kind of work. Speaking of the activist art made at the height of the AIDS pandemic, he noted, “We didn’t want to do work that’s in a museum; we wanted to do work that’s on the streets…guess where our work is now?”

That kind of artwork can undoubtedly be found in museums and streets. Just think of all the buttons and banners and t-shirts people wear nowadays when demonstrating (for their rights, for example) or only as a way to express themselves or their support for a specific cause (fight AIDS, equal rights, animal rights, women rights, the environment, etc.).

Queerpower Silence=Death facade at Leslie-Lohman Museum for 30th anniversary of Silence=Death poster, in the summer of 2017. Photo © Alina Oswald, initially published in A&U Magazine–America’s AIDS Magazine.

So the question that comes to mind is:

Why do we create?

Many people often associate a piece of artwork with beauty (in the eyes of the beholder), but should art have a deeper purpose? And, if yes, what should that purpose be?

Whenever necessary, should creatives use art to send a message or make a point?

Should we use our creative work to speak our minds–to advocate for a cause or protest an injustice? Is it still safe to do so?

AIDS at Home show in 2017 at the Museum of the City of New York. B&W Photographs by Bill Bytsura, from The AIDS Activist Project (now available in a book named The AIDS Activist Project photography book). Above photo by Alina Oswald.
Rise-Up to HIV and ACT UP Bracelets. Photo by Alina Oswald.
ACT UP bracelet. Photo by Alina Oswald.

I’ve noticed lately that some people refer to “activist art” as “protest art.” I guess that’s because this kind of art advocates for a cause and often protests an injustice. It usually comes from the most vital type of passion, has a well-defined purpose, and might be the most potent art ever made.

Over the years, I’ve been honored to cover the stories of extraordinary activists and advocates who, empowered by injustices done to their peers, create unique, awe-inspiring activist art. There’s a lot we can learn from them. I believe that, by following in their footsteps, we, as creatives, can also take on such causes and make activist art of our own, to let our voices be heard and take on the challenges of our time; if so, we desire to feel that we should. We could capture what’s expected of us, perhaps what’s considered “the norm” (and), or use art for a bigger purpose. Sometimes, it might not even have to be an either/or decision.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Alina Oswald and commented:

    Since yesterday was May 1, International Workers’ Day, or May Day, as it’s also known, today I’d like to revisit the idea of protest art: what it is, who creates it, and also when and why it is created. Nowadays, it seems that we’re in more and more need of protest art, of making protest art in response to our reality, a reality that keeps changing, and not necessarily in a good way. I believe that now more than ever we need activism and protest art.

    Thank you for reading,
    Alina Oswald


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