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 as well as of 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 make work that’s in a museum, we wanted to make work that’s on the streets…guess where our work is now?”

That kind of artwork can certainly be found in a museum, but also out in the 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 certain cause (fight AIDS, equal rights, animal rights, women rights, the environment, etc.).

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

So the question that comes to mind is:

Why do we create?

Oftentimes, many people might 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, 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 with the same name, The AIDS Activist Project photography book). Above 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 does advocate for a cause and it often protests an injustice. It often comes from the strongest kind of passion, has a well-defined purpose and it might just be the most powerful art ever made.

Rise-Up to HIV and ACT UP Bracelets. Photo by Alina Oswald.
ACT UP bracelet. Photo by Alina Oswald.

Over the years I’ve been honored to cover the stories of amazing activists and advocates who, empowered by injustices done to their peers, create amazing, 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 challenges of our time, if so we desire or feel that we should. We could choose to capture what’s expected of us, perhaps what’s considered “the norm” (and) or use art for a bigger purpose. Perhaps, sometimes it might not even have to be an either/or decision.

As always, thanks for stopping by,

Alina Oswald

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.