17th April 2021

Do We Need Protest Art Now, More Than Ever?

Turn on CNN, BBC, open the New York Times or the South China Morning Post and you’d be forgiven for thinking the sky is falling. In fact, best not to do any of those things but quickly, go and check your window – maybe the sky is already down.

We’re living in an age where the news cycle is constant.  You’re locked into it either via traditional media or social media, whether it’s chatting with friends at lunch or talking to your taxi driver heading into work, it seems everyone is locked into the news on a global level.

With so much knowledge and opinion floating around in the air, it’s often hard to synthesise truth from the media you do ingest versus opinion. It’s all congealed together.

In a world where some global leaders seem to act on a schizophrenic quality or seem to have the temperament of a small child hooked up to an IV of Red Cordial and limitless access to a twitter account, it’s sometimes important that another entity exists to explore alternate options, test alternative facts and voice the concerns of all those in the gaping populous.

More than ever, we need art forms that investigate, interrogate and hold to account our global leaders and their decisions.

We need these art forms to expand thinking and opinion, we need these to echo the quiet, timid little voices of minorities that often times can’t speak for themselves.

Historically this has been a cornerstone of the arts. Look at the likes of Billy Bragg and the punk movement of the Ramones or the Sex Pistols, look at the protest theatre written around the Vietnam war or perhaps most viscerally, look at some of the visual artists painting on topics such as the Catholic church’s sex scandals or the treatment of refugees by the Australian Government.

We need artists to be doing the hard thing – saying the opinions that are often unheard, pushing the boundaries beyond un-comfortability so that people can’t help but look away – provoke the thought, get people talking.

They might not like what they see or hear but they need to analyse it beyond the media frenzy of Fox News VS CNN.

Sometimes you just gotta speak your mind. Music is key to this. I was recently working on a festival in Dubai where one of the headliners, white American rapper G-Eazy belted out his hit single “F*ck Donald Trump” along with a backing choir of 10,000 punters. The message is clear, the message is unambiguous, equally what people think and their opinions are validated or heard in an instant. If you agree – you’re singing, if you don’t agree – you’re silent. There is no middle. Fast forward a week and a funk band from South Africa are playing their crowd favourite “Step Down Zuma” to voice their leadership opinions… all mixed up in a catchy, ‘please hit the dance floor right now’ type rhythm, it informs whilst still being entertaining.

Protest art need not be aggressive either. Sometimes a simple act of protest can be defying oppression.

Recently in Melbourne, a platform of “Bollart” has begun. The City of Melbourne recently placed hundreds of 1 Tonne concrete blocks all over the city at key strategic locations to avoid vehicle-based terrorist attacks (akin to what we’ve seen across Europe during 2017) and while this is a temporary measure till the city can urban plan some more permanent, sensory appealing installations, the citizens of the city wasted no time in taking matters into their own hands. Graffiti artists, photographers, painters, lego builders all took to the bollards and created Bollart – a beautification of these bollards to show that while they’re necessary, we need not live in a utilitarian bleak world. Even venturing up to fully knitted smocks in some cases, these artists all independently created a wave of protest art – protesting simply against terrorism infringing our way of life and bringing smiles to commuters and the public all over town.

So whether it’s thought provoking theatre to explore another point of view, challenging works of visual art to show the plight of an embattled minority or maybe a decentralised, sporadic city wide beautification project to keep people’s spirits up – we need protest art more than ever. In an age where some world leaders can be thought of as shuffling around The White House in their dressing gown watching Fox and Tweeting, it’s imperative that other voices can be heard too.

Take up arms – don’t use guns, use par cans or canvas. make art, fight back.


Also by Tom Warneke:

16 Essential Items For An Entertainment Technician

Some One Else’s Shoes: The Practice Of Empathy


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Hailing from his hometown of Melbourne, Tom Warneke is a Technical & Production Manager with experience throughout Australia, Asia and the Middle East. He has worked on many formats ranging from theatre and musicals through to festivals, live music, and major events and mega shows. While his experience stems from Lighting, he has a background in emergency management and works often in helping technical teams manage change. Tom is a trained EMT and has an MBA as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Counter-Terrorism. When not running production on shows, he enjoys finding new music, finding the best unknown restaurants and bars, travelling and exploring new places, and living life in search of great stories and experiences. Tom is currently based in Dubai as an expat, attempting to make sense of a fascinating part of the world.

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