How does art derive from turbulent times of unrest? Protest explores how contemporary artists interpret and express themes of war, anguish, and desensitization. Protest, a film in our Art21 series discusses how themes of war, anguish, and desensitization are represented through the artwork of Jenny Holzer, Alfredo Jaar, An-My Lê, and Nancy Spero.
Jenny Holzer utilizes text and projections in her artwork to convey emotional themes, including hardship and cruelty. Whether questioning consumerist impulses, describing torture, or lamenting death and disease, her subversive work often blends in among advertisements in public space, thus violating innate expectations with arresting content. Holzer’s recent use of text ranges from silk-screened paintings of declassified government memoranda detailing prisoner abuse to poetry and prose in a sixty-five-foot-wide wall of light in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center, New York.
In installations, photographs, films, and community-based projects, Alfredo Jaar explores the public’s desensitization to images and the limitations of art to represent events such as genocides, epidemics, and famines. Jaar’s work bears witness to military conflicts, political corruption, and imbalances of power between industrialized and developing nations.
Having lived in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, An-My Lê focuses her artwork on military landscapes as a way to document industrial history while exploring her own. Her work often expresses the dissonance of war, whether it be pictures of tension between the natural landscape and its violent transformation into battlefields or documentaries outlining the disjunction between wars as historical events and the ubiquitous representation of war in contemporary entertainment.
Nancy Spero is a pioneer of feminist art. Her work since the 1960s is an unapologetic statement against the pervasive abuse of power, Western privilege, and male dominance. Executed with a raw intensity on paper and in ephemeral installations, her work often draws its imagery and subject matter from current and historical events such as the torture of women in Nicaragua, the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust, and the atrocities of the Vietnam War.
Art: Art in the 21st Century is an award-winning series of 24 programmes in which 100 contemporary artists explain their creations, their creative processes, and their perceptions of art. Available for the first time on DVD in the UK, Art21 covers a wide range of artists and contemporary visual art.