Friday, April 26, 2013

Art and Activism

Actions speak louder than words, but what happens when actions and words come together? I recently saw the documentary film Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, and in the film there was a piece of typographic art that really struck a chord with me. So, today I wanted to focus, not on the aesthetics of type, but on the powerful message it can convey.

Ai Wei Wei is a Chinese artist and outspoken activist, whose work often tackles issues of censorship and corruption in the Chinese government. After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Ai and a team of volunteers worked relentlessly to gather the names and birthdays of 5,385 school children who were casualties of the quake, because the government refused to release the information. Ai believed that corruption caused money to be taken away from building projects, which caused the poor construction of these schools. His 2009 exhibition So Sorry, featured the piece called Remembering, which is a simple sentence, spelled out with 9000 school bags across a Munich museum. The piece reads, "She lived happily for seven years in this world," a sentiment of one of the grieving mothers.

Another piece by Ai, has him defacing an actual Neolithic vase with the Coca-Cola logo.

Another artist who uses typography to make a stand is Barbara Kruger. Kruger is an American conceptual artist, who created works with activist themes in the 1980's. She used common tropes found in the advertising of the time, such as photography and strong slogans, to create striking protest art. Her work often uses a single black and white image overlaid with a typographic message, usually in Futura Bold. Using this visual language, she explores themes of feminism, consumerism, and social identity. 

"I have no complaints, except for the world." - Barbara Kruger.

Lastly, on a slightly different note, I wanted to introduce SAMO©. SAMO© is a graffiti tag originated by Jean-Michel Basquiat and his friend Al Diaz. SAMO© stood for "same old shit," and the tags started popping up all over New York in the early 80's. According to photographer  Henry Flynt, "The collective graffiti employed anonymity to seem corporate and engulfing. The tone was utterly different from the morose and abject tone of Basquiat's solo work. The implication was that SAMO© was a drug that could solve all problems. SOHO, the art world, and Yuppies were satirized with Olympian wit."

Ai Wei Wei Documentary -
An article on Barbara Kruger -
SAMO photo archive -

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