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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Robots are taking wall murals to a whole new level

Robots are taking wall murals to a whole new level

Art and technology meet in unexpected places to create wonderful expressions of humanity.

Perhaps the oldest and most famous example of such a blend of art and technology was Leanardo Da Vinci. One day, he was painting exquisite masterpieces of smiling women, the other, he was inventing thrilling new ways for people to experience the world. From diving suits to flying machines, his unhinged imagination enabled him to envision (and in part create) the future.

Over at D Emptyspace, we’re obsessed with that meeting point. The place where technology and art meet to create something no one thought was possible. Which is why we were so excited to come across the Robots for Humanity community and the Robot Muralist company.

“We are transforming cities, communities, public spaces and homes through the vision of artists.”

Using a wall-crawling robot, they can recreate any artwork, at any scale, on almost any surface. Just take a look at the video below.

This is something that can transform a cityscape in a matter of days.

The technical details of how it works

The robot uses a collection of spray paint cans and a clever algorithm to calculate how the artwork will be scaled on the surface of the wall.

It can spray 1 m² per minute — an incredibly fast application for something that could take weeks to months if hand-painted by an artist.

The robot doesn’t actually come up with its own ‘art’ (although that’s also something these clever folks are working on!). It needs an artists input to transfer the image over. It’s a true collaboration between an artist and technology.

The robot paints much like a traditional printer. It uses small dots of color to make up different colors and details. Each dot is 1cm in diameter. As technology improves and advances, this will probably reduce further making a smoother finish.

Quick side note:This ‘resolution’ translation is something the D Emptyspace team has dealt with at length. When taking an artwork into another medium, be it a digital gallery or gigantic mural, staying true to the original piece is a major concern.

Making the world more beautiful with art

Next up, the Robot Muralist team are partnering with Mindvalley to paint 4 gigantic murals in Pula, Croatia.

They’re on a mission to transform boring, depressing, gray urban spaces into striking points of human expression.

Now that’s something we can get behind!

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6 Amazing New Artists to Follow in January

6 Amazing New Artists to Follow in January

Artists all over the world have been hard at work, filling their galleries with incredible works of art. We love to spotlight talent, so we rounded up this month’s top-viewed galleries to give you a boost of artistic inspiration!

From screen printers, to photographers, to fine art painters, to digital artists — artists across all mediums and techniques have raised their profiles and grown their followers on D Emptyspace. The variety is truly astounding.

@Sadulsky_art — Shannon Sadulsky

House of Card Series by Shannon Sadulsky in D Emptyspace

Shannon Sadulsky is a fine art photographer in New England, USA. She’s been obsessed with art since the age of 16 and has cultivated a “lifelong interest in photography as fine art”. Her surreal photographs never fail to evoke a sense of curiosity, wonderment and reflection. By combining dramatic lighting scenarios with digital manipulation, each artwork leaves you wondering what was real, and what was an illusion.

Click to View Gallery

“I’ve always been intrigued by art that is really an illusion. Creating mountains out of paper. Water out of plastic. Mirroring or blending of images to create entirely new subject matter. The surprise of, and interest in, how an image was created is the most satisfying part of being an artist.” — Shannon Sadulsky


Desolation in a Box by Khaotic.ish in D Emptyspace

Khaotic.ish is a photographer who’s creating and sharing some incredible statement pieces. In this gallery, “Desolation of a Box”, an ominous and mysterious ‘X’ makes an appearance on every frame…Khaotic.ish is one to watch for social commentary that doesn’t get lost in pretentiousness.

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“My art can be described as controlled kaos or completely pretentious, it depends I guess.” — Khaotic.ish

@fiddler — Lillie Morris

Water Works by Lillie Morris in D Emptyspace

Lillie Morris is a US-based fine artist who uses acrylic, collage and mixed media to create textured abstract paintings. She is “inspired by the landscape, waterways and rich history of the Piedmont region of Georgia,” and has participated in multiple residencies in Ireland. In this gallery, “Waterworks,” Morris has created a series of colorful explosions. By layering unique marks on the canvas, she creates a striking combination of textures and colors.

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@johndolecheck — John Dolecheck

Paintings of Sports Legends by John Dolecheck in D Emptyspace

In this gallery, John Dolcheck uses monochromatic paint to recreate legendary snapshots of sporting events throughout history. His painting style blends digital image processing with traditional painting methods to make each work a statement piece.

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@jonnieturpie — Jonnie Turpie

Powder Drop by Jonnie Turpie in D Emptyspace

We always encourage artists to treat their gallery space like another blank canvas and truly make it their own. In this gallery named “Powder Drop,” Jonnie Turpie covers each wall edge to edge with abstract splatters of black fine powder gently pressed onto A4 paper. With a Rorschach-esque effect, the viewer is left to interpret each work, and indeed each wall, within their own imagination.

Turpie mentioned that he was astounded by the virtual scaling effect possible in D Emptyspace and is considering creating more artwork at a much greater scale.

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@d.lee.t — Darren Lee Thomas

Untitled by Darren Lee Thomas

Darren Lee Thomas is a UK-based painter, printmaker, and art education teacher. In these screenprints, Thomas has combined vibrant dots of color to form abstract shapes that hint at a deeper subject matter.

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We look forward to seeing what you create next month with a whole four extra gallery designs to choose from!

Click here for more details!

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