(CTS) Design Activism: 2 – The Art (and Design) of Activism

Write an analysis of a piece of protest art (or more), based on your reading of Duncombe and Lambert’s text, additional academic research and group discussion (250 words).

Although the point of the task wasn’t necessarily to respond to a piece of activist art that had been effective (a completely ineffectual piece of protest art, as much of it is, would be just as relevant to the context) I began searching my mind for examples of protest art that had really affected change. In turn this opened up an entirely new question of what really constitutes art in the context of activism. Is photo journalism art? Do photographs that have affected change in society, the end of conflicts etc belong in the category of activist art?

Europe Migrants Photo Gallery

This particular photograph came to be the defining image of the Syrian Refugee crisis and the shock that it evoked around the world led to what can be seen as lasting change. The child in the photograph is Aylan Kurdi, a syrian refugee who had drowned as his family attempted to cross the sea, his body washing up on a Turkish shoreline. The image of lifeless child went viral almost immediately, its publication in The Independent newspaper leading to a surge in public pressure on the UK government to take more action on the crisis.

From my own experience and interpretation, most art that derives from protest or activism seems to serve the purpose of giving a visual identity to a movement or protest, an expression of an activist’s experiences or satire. It is difficult to think of an example of art being used successfully as a tool of protest but rather as a visual representation of the protest’s aims or beliefs. As Estonian artist Kristina Norman (The Calvert Journal, https://calvertjournal.com/features/show/2788/manifesta-art-politics-boycott-stpetersburg#.VjjMtrREfAu, no date) states, ‘Art is about creating discussion, a diversity of meanings and voices. That can change something eventually, and if it moves something in some people’s minds then that’s good.’


Norman, K. (no date) ‘The big question: can art change the world?’, The Calvert Journal, 4 June. Available at: https://calvertjournal.com/features/show/2788/manifesta-art-politics-boycott-stpetersburg#.VjjMtrREfAu (Accessed: 3 November 2012).

Illustration list

Fig 1. Demir, N. (2015). Death of Alan Kurdi. [image] Available at: http://cdncms.todayszaman.com/todayszaman/2015/09/06/228162.jpg [Accessed 2 Oct. 2015].


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