Documents of Contemporary Art: Activism
Afonso Dias Ramos, Tom Snow (Eds)
MIT Press, 2023
Activism is a critical point of contention for institutions and genealogies of contemporary art around the world. Yet artists have consistently engaged in activist discourse, lending their skills to social movements, and regularly participating in civil and social rights campaigns while also boycotting cultural institutions and exerting significant pressure on them. This timely volume, edited by Tom Snow and Afonso Ramos, addresses an extraordinary moment in debates over the institutional frameworks and networks of art including large-scale direct actions, as well as a radical rethinking of art venues and urban spaces according to racial, class, or gender-based disparities, including demonstrations against the extractive and exploitative practices of neoliberal accumulation and climate catastrophe.
From ACT UP and its affiliate groups since the dawn of the AIDS crisis to the counter-spectacle and street theatrics of the so-called Arab Spring and Occupy, to ongoing protest movements such as Black Lives Matter, Rhodes Must Fall, and Decolonize This Place, activist aesthetics has proven increasingly difficult to define under traditional classifications. Resurgent campaigns for decolonial reckoning, ecological justice, gender equality, indigenous rights and antiracist pedagogies indicate that the role of activism in contemporary art practice urges a critical reassessment. One pressing question is whether contemporary art’s most radical politics now takes place outside, against, or in spite of, conventional sites of display such as museums, biennials, and galleries.