Skip to main content

Art and Activism : Creativity and Performance as Subversive Forms of Political Expression in Super-Diverse Cities

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ARTIVISM (Art and Activism : Creativity and Performance as Subversive Forms of Political Expression in Super-Diverse Cities)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-02-28

Super-diversity, creativity and political expression

Artistic expression represents an original way to voice political criticism and to demand civil rights. But how do citizens use art in activism or activism in art to create multiple forms of resistance? Professor Salzbrunn‘s project on ARTIVISM explores new artistic forms of political expression in super-diverse cities, in times of crisis and/or under oppressive conditions. Her international research team focuses on a broad range of artistic tools, styles, and means of expression, such as festive events and parades, cartoons, comics and street art. The work is based on multisensory ethnographic research, including filmmaking and drawing, in three principal urban settings on three continents: 1. Europe: Italian and French towns with a strong tradition of Carnival parades and carnivalesque style figures (masquerade, détournement) in political demonstrations; 2. Africa: gateway cities in Cameroon with creative and satirical comic art; 3. North-America: Latino immigrant cities in California (US) with powerful mural paintings. Building on urban studies, migration studies, and the anthropology of art and performance, Professor Salzbrunn and her team aim to understand and explain how social actors engage artistically in order to trigger social, economic and political change.
In each of the fields actors have used art in activism; in parallel, art has become more and more activist, as political contexts have grown more instable, repressive, populist and authoritarian. Tragic events such as the collapse of public infrastructure in Genoa and of private buildings in Marseille, the outbreak of war in Cameroon, and the construction of an anti-immigration wall at the southern border of the US, point dramatically at failed city and state policies. In a context of growing repression of democratic political opposition movements, artivistic means of expression have become even more important key elements of political processes. Hence, ARTIVISM’s epistemological, empirical and theoretical focus on new artistic forms of political expression under precarious and oppressive conditions is extremely pertinent.
In the first part of the project, high consideration was given to data protection measures, ethical consent forms, risk and privacy impact assessments, and technical solutions for data storage and audio-visual registrations. The team constructed a website to be globally visible to artivists, scientists and the general public. All these measures, in combination with the project’s presentation at international conferences and in public media, contributed profoundly to the understanding, acceptance and enthusiastic welcoming of the project. In the second part, the team concentrated on long-term fieldwork, follow-up field-visits and field-crossings. (Salzbrunn, under preparation) In this way, it established and consolidated trusted relationships with participants living under precarious conditions. The final part is centered on follow-up research, analyses of findings, writing of publications and a comic book, editing of films, restitution and dissemination of productions and results. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the team has intensified digital ethnography, but continues fieldwork depending on the situation of sanitary and administrative restrictions.

Analysis of fieldwork and field-crossing material, digital ethnography, interviews and audio-visual material has led to first insights:
• The researchers’ presence in the field-sites has become more important than ever to build trusted relationships with research participants
• Precarity is increasing constantly in the chosen fieldsites, but also creativity as a way of coping with and resisting to precarisation
• Liminality and precarity are directly intertwined concepts that mark processes of deprivation of rights and resources, prompting outrage and resistance through artistic activism, engagement and performance.
• The overall struggle for recognition and empowerment has emerged as a pertinent subject in artivistic spaces and events
• Gender struggle is part of artivist actions and resistance. Women and LGBTQI+ defy marginalization by becoming increasingly active in social and political resistance through the visual arts.
• Many social and political struggles have shifted from the street to social networks, a process accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic
• Touristification, gentrification, neo-liberal capitalism, commercialization on the one side and accelerating precarity on the other, have triggered new forms of protest in all fieldsites
• In Mediterranean cities, activists and artists have organized independent carnivals and carnivalesque events as satire and critiques of corruption, anti-immigration and anti-refugee politics.
• In Cameroon, where open political protest faces direct state violence and persecution, artistic resistance through the visual and performative arts is coded, subtle and ironic. Yet, artistic activists are also threatened through censorship, intimidation and persecution.
• In the US, the Trump government and anti-immigration politics have sparked new mural art projects. In Los Angeles, mural art has increased the sense of belonging to a neighborhood and a community, but symbolic references have also triggered rejection and symbolic violence reflecting conflicts about territory, belonging and the interpretation of history.
The ARTIVISM team developed and combined innovative methods throughout the course of fieldwork, leading beyond the state of the art. Field-crossing, a method first conceptualised by Professor Salzbrunn in 2012, has proven to be extremely fruitful in teamwork as it reinforces intellectual exchange and the sharing of fieldwork experiences within the team, especially in combination with multisensory ethnography and apprenticeship. The latter proved highly appropriate tools for the sharing of sensitive and bodily experiences in artistic and political expression. Graphic anthropology was also developed further, since drawing with others opens the field, serves as elicitation and as a means of expression in communication, interpretation, and dissemination, in shared field activities. The team’s intensive engagement in audio-visual anthropology throughout the first fourty months of the project has shown that all senses need to be activated in order to share and transmit cultural perceptions. The participation in and documentation of events allows us to understand how people perceive their social realities and how, why and why not they react, struggle and fight for their ideals against all odds. The evaluation of fieldwork findings, on-going follow-up research, restitution and dissemination of results will bring more insights into new forms of alliances between art and activism.
Updates, news and insights from the ongoing work as well as first shortfilms and articles are constantly being published on the ERC ARTIVISM Blog:
Los Angeles. Mural art 2017
Viareggio. Official carnival 2019. Hommage to Frida Kahlo
Marseille. Independant carnival at La Plaine, Place Jean Jaurès 2018
Yaoundé. Waka Waka. Oldest fanzine of comic art in Cameroon.
Nice. Official carnival 2019. The Trump Clown
Genoa. First independant carnival 2019
Yaoundé. Mamie Denis escapes the rest home in Paris. Graphic novel by C.N.Edimo and A. Danngar