I was recently asked about a range of views in an interview and some of those questions made me ask myself in what ways art and politics interact. I think they have always been part of the social commentary, reflecting the emotions and perceptions around them. Artists have different skills to a lot of people. Not better or worse, but very different. I am not prescribing that every artist needs to make comment, but it is within each artist's power to do so if they choose.
And we should not demonize artists that choose not to make social and political commentary either. For even entertainment-driven art is showing others a language of emotion and different way of being that has worth. But when your environment so conflicts with your values there is a tension and artists that seek truth in their work are naturally going to find ways to express that. I always say, for the health of a society, look at how the artists, older people, children and those without resources are treated, and you see the truth of policies, not what people want you to believe.
Laws do not persuade just because they threaten - Seneca, A.D. 65
Among my peers, there is much concern at the moment about laws being used to create a presumption of guilt in many countries. Be it pre-emptive strike and targeted killing in the US, interpreting the role of nudity in art in Australia or laws to control expression and protest. These are usually actions that don't follow the law's definition of 'due processes' which we all assume protects us. In the last decade, in most Western democracies including Australia, laws have been created for the sole purpose of bypassing these principles if it doesn't suit a political agenda.
One of the reasons we don't hear as many objections about it is the 'freezing' effect that such laws have on creative expression (any expression really). When societies draft new laws to escape this responsibility, it damages the very core of democracy and we are no longer safe. It's happening everywhere. Similarly if politicians attack the Court systems that uphold those freedoms, then we are without protection. In my experience it shouldn't be easy to stay silent. So I always say, use your art to express what you see around you.
I think back to when I did my little exhibition about the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act 2005, Sedition and Other Bedtime Stories in 2006, and was hoping that we had moved forward, but it has slowed. It wasn't easy, and I experienced unpleasant reactions from people. This new presumption of guilt is becoming normalised and that is going to affect how artists create. During the Occupy Movement in the last few months, I see and hear increasing prejudice towards people expressing their legal right to protest against a system which even those that work within it admit is flawed. The use of violence against protestors, unlawful detention and black lists do not reflect a healthy democratic society. We need to remember, that if someone hasn't committed a crime, they are innocent. Due process is about finding this out.
Western societies struggling to get out of the financial crisis lament the lack of innovation, but forget that freedom to think itself is needed for creative and innovative thinking. Even during the Great Depression, turning on your people wasn't FDR's policy of choice. What are we afraid of to allow these voices to state the obvious?
And it goes both ways this need to consider the other. There are many people outside the protest movement who are working to support our society and values. They exist in the military, in government and business. They acknowledge their flaws and work against it. But there are those in the protest movement too that like big words that act as fishing nets so if you kill the good species while fishing well, too bad. Even the extreme progressive left has devised its own version of collateral damage.
So this week I will reflect on these thoughts in the city where I live, to continue to exercise free expression, and to honour everybody's art. And I hope that people occupying both the street and the high-rise, in all their different uniforms on either side of the barricades, will occasionally-for even one second-stop to remember that we also occupy the same planet.
[Artwork 'Boystown'from Sedition and Other Bedtime Stories 2006]