4 Controversial Artists Who Challenge Their Governments

Street art in Edinburgh by The Rebel Bear

“To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom.” — Joseph Beuys

Art has played a major part in stirring up and supporting revolutions. As governments scramble to retract freedom of speech and suppress criticism, artists react with a fearless intensity.

Often their artworks cause governments to arrest and imprison them for years at a time…

And yet, rebellion remains.

Ai WeiWei, China

“It’s powerful only because someone thinks it’s powerful and invests value in the object.” — Ai Weiwei

Ai WeiWei is a Beijing-born artist who’s spent his entire life creating controversial art pieces that speak out about human rights and government policy in China. After studying abroad in the 90’s, he returned to China and started blogging on a popular platform called Weibo from 2005 to 2009 with a mix of “scathing social commentary, criticism of government policy, thoughts on art and architecture, and autobiographical writings.” Later, he switched to Twitter, claiming to spend 8 hours online every day.

Dropping a Han Dynasty Vase by Ai Weiwei

His 1995 artwork “Dropping a Han Dynasty Vase” (pictured above) caused particular outrage among Chinese officials to which he replied, “Chairman Mao used to tell us that we can only build a new world if we destroy the old one.”

Ai was arrested in 2011 on allegations of tax fraud (he was released 3 months later) and forbidden to leave China until 2015. He now lives in Berlin with his family and creates art internationally. Multiple documentaries have been released about Ai and his ordeals with the film “Ai Weiwei’s Appeal ¥15,220,910.50” detailing his arrest.

Banksy, The World

Street art by Bansky commenting on capitalism

Banksy is an England-based street artist whose identity remains a mystery. His work first started appearing on walls in the 90’s and often gets sold for millions of dollars (to the artist’s apparent disgust). Banksy is famous for harsh commentary on political matters globally. Capitalism, war, and the political tendency to ignore problems are common themes.

Statement left on a wall in Gaza by Banksy

In 2015 he constructed “Dismaland” — a parody of Disneyland that was infused with political meaning. The deconstructed infrastructure of the installation is now used as emergency housing for immigrants. Then in 2017, he offered a free print to Bristolians if the voted against the Tory candidate (an offer retracted on the grounds of illegality).

Banksy continues to challenge governments with recent works focusing on the UK’s exit from the EU.

Zehra Dogan, Turkey

A painting by Zehra Dogan that was destroyed by Turkish officials

Zehra Dogan is a Kursdish artist and journalist who was arrested and imprisoned in 2017 for her art. She was released in early 2019 after 2 years and 10 months saying “I will continue the struggle.”

The artwork she was arrested for was of a Kurdish district that Turkish security forces set ablaze. According to Amnesty International, around 500,000 people were forced to leave their homes due to the violent crackdown.

In the artwork below, Bansky calls for the release of Turkish artist Zehra Dogan.

Street art by Banksy calling for the release of Zehra Dogan

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Pussy Riot), Russia

Nadezhda is the co-founder of the infamous Russian feminist punk rock protest group, Pussy Riot. The group staged politically charged art performances that were directed against the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. In 2012, they held a performance inside Moscow’s “Cathedral of Christ the Savior” where they danced provocatively in brightly colored tights and ski-masks.

Pussy Riot perform in Los Angeles. (Photo: Consequence of Sound)

For the group’s antics, they were charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” and sentenced to two years imprisonment (just over one year and a half were actually served by Tolokonnikova thanks to a change in law). Petr Pavlensky, another famous Russian artist literally sewed his mouth shut in protest to their arrest.

Now the group is performing internationally with a mixed reception. They’ve been at the center of a suspected poisoning scandal and have recently canceled a show in Hong Kong due to threats from the mainland Chinese government. Their continued message? Stand up to suppression and keep fighting.

Are You a Revolutionary Artist?

Have you created controversial or politically charged art? We’d love to see it. Curate a gallery on D Emptyspace and use the hashtag #revolutionaryart in the description. We’ll select several galleries for promotion on our social media channels and in our newsletter, which goes to thousands of subscribers.

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Head to Japan to see the most advanced museum in the world

Head to Japan to see the most advanced museum in the world

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Yes. This place is real.

Move over Disneyland. Japan’s making magic in real life.

For a long time we’ve focused on Japan’s whimsical tales of Studio Ghibli, crazy vending machines, and school girl scandals. But there’s a new attraction in Tokyo and it’s yanking on the spotlight with both hands.

Here’s the kicker… it’s an art museum.

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“Artworks Move Around The Room Freely”

When you first read the video subtitle “Artworks move around the room freely” it sounds like a bad translation. But nope. The art in this museum really does drift along the walls with a mind of its own, playfully interacting with visitors motions and footsteps. Check it out.

“teamLab Borderless is a group of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of rooms, communicate with other works, influence, and sometimes intermingle with each other with no boundaries.”

All the art in teamLab’s Borderless museum is made using complex light projections and Augmented Reality (AR) technology. Its an interactive experience of a virtual world in a real-world setting.

Just let that sink in for a second. The people at Borderless are actually building the virtual world into the real one. This is where the lines between art and reality begin to blur.

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Art that’s seamlessly more interactive

The museum contains almost 50 artworks that “form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other works, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body.”

Exhibits are in dark rooms with pitch black walls and the occasional mirror. Black shapes jut from walls or forming mini hills and forests to create a landscape that you can interact with. Check it out.

They’ve also built an underwater forest that you can walk through. It’s titled “Sea in the Memory of Topography.”

Okay, one more. Watch as 16 lightrays intermingle to create the artwork, “Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as well, Life on Collision — 1 Crow where 16 Light Rays Cross”

Revolutionizing school and learning through art

Welcome to the Athletics Forest. It’s designed for children to have fun and learn to think in three dimensions rather than two. Pus there’s a giant marshmallow-type trampoline that beckons event the most shy kids to step out of their shell.

But the true value of the Athletics Forest goes beyond a fun educational art experience for kiddos. Here’s the higher concept.

“Knowledge entails using the brain whilst keeping the body stationary, and limiting the amount of information. If the problem is “1+1=?” the amount of information is several bytes.

What we call “knowledge” that is taught in school, discards the body, it is acquired through language and mathematics, and in terms of information volume the amount is extremely small. However, if we take a quick look around ourselves, it is clear that the world is comprised of an immense amount of information.”

They’re working on teaching kids how to actively think in higher dimensions rather than flat planes. That means in the future, we solve problems using an entirely new set of skills. Head to their webpage on higher dimensional thinking if you want to know more.


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Seeping into reality

The whole concept behind teamLab’s Borderless museum is to make art in which you can lose yourself. Art that you can unify with. Art that “transcends the boundary between people and world”.

Consuming food and drink is one of our most basic functions as humans. So when you have a virtual flower literally blooming in a cup of matcha tea (tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most ancient and revered activities), you can’t help but be impressed.

Sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick at the moment… but give these artists 2 or 3 years, and who knows what they could achieve.

One things for sure, the creators are looking toward the future

While excited adults will flock towards this art museum as Japan’s next ‘big’ thing, it’s clear that it’s not for us.

It’s for the future.

The athletic forest alone show that teamLab is dedicated to inspiring and teaching children in new ways. And as Greta Thunberg has recently shown the world, the kids of the future will need all the inspiration and help they can get to tackle problems that are currently unsolvable.

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The Surprising Reason Art Giveaways Can Make You Money

The Surprising Reason Art Giveaways Can Make You Money

Whether you’re a designer, a digital artist, a painter, or an artist of any kind, you’ve been asked at least once (probably many more times) to give away your artwork for free, in return for “exposure”.

This wouldn’t be acceptable in any other field, and asking for free work is just plain unethical, right? Well, I recently spoke with two artists who managed to change my mind — at least partially — on this. The key is, if you’re an artist giving away your work, you have to have a strategy and make sure you’re giving it to the right people.

While that statement is deceptively simple, it’s a major challenge for artists to put into action. Who do I give the artwork to? Why is this a good idea? When is it a good idea to give away artwork? And when is it enough? After all, you have to start making money off your artwork at some point!

If you’re struggling with this concept, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

Those two successful, full-time artists I spoke to gave answers that were seriously surprising.

“The people that fund charities, the people that help nonprofits, the people that have free time to go to these things, are also the people that support the arts because they have the time and money to be able to do it.

I didn’t think about that at the start. People would say “thank you so much for coming out for our cause” and then in the same breath they’re saying “hey, by the way, I like your art and I want to commission a piece”. I think that’s a great way to get started.” — John Bramblit, read the full interview here.

John Bramblit is a blind visual artist who paints using his sense of touch and “cane skills”. When he started painting, he didn’t have a network of galleries supporting him or any big contacts in the art world. But with each charity event he volunteered for, he got commissions in return.

By giving away something for free, he gained access to people who were interested in the arts AND had the money to pay for it.

He went on in our interview to say that pieces at charity art auctions often sell for prices that far exceed your normal range. While art galleries and collectors are aware of this, it still places a higher value on your work, which you can use to your advantage.

“You have to talk to people! Beyond that, it’s all about self-promotion and putting yourself out there. Set up a portfolio, make postcards with your art and go to your local city hall to request public space. Donate art to benefit nonprofit organizations. Use your art to make a difference! That’s something I’m very passionate about — it’s just a bonus that it also happens to be a great way to promote your work.” — Michael Dergar, read the full interview here.

Michael is devoted to creating equality in art. He regularly donates 50% of his exhibition sales and has founded a charity that helps disabled artists make a living. Like Bramblit, he suggests you donate your art to non-profits. By doing this your artwork will either be auctioned or displayed in a prominent public space raising your profile.

Beyond whether or not a gallery owner ‘likes’ your art, they also want to know that your work has an audience that’s willing to pay for it. At the end of the day, a gallery only has so much wall space — and they have bills to pay. By showing that your art has been bought at auctions or displayed by charities, you also prove that you’re a good investment of time.

So to answer the original question, yes, giving away your art for free can make you money. Especially if you donate it to a worthy cause. It’s a win-win situation and proves that if you go into it with a plan, giving away artwork for exposure really can be worth the investment.

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