A Brief History of Protest Art


Art as long been used as a form of criticizing or protesting various activities throughout the world. It can be used to criticize and protect governments, corporations, or other things the artist does not agree with. Protest art is not simply limited to posters and slogans, but also includes art such as theatre performance, literature, and even cartoon art. You could even find art scrawled across a 40 foot container.

If you have ever seen Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, you might recall a particularly humorous scene where the title character paints a slogan on a large wall in Jerusalem, which he believes to read “Romans Go Home”. A patrolling Roman soldier points out that it actually reads “People called Romans they go to house”, and after a short grammar lesson, forces Brian to write the corrected version one hundred times.

While this is a fictionalized and comedic situation, it is an example of how people have been using street graffiti for centuries to decry powerful establishments. This tradition is continued today, such as the street artwork done by “Banksy”, a pseudonym for a British graffiti artist. Banksy’s artwork became popular during modern protest movements, such as Occupy Wall Street.

Famous literature throughout history has also protested or satirized political regimes. William Shakespeare’s “Richard III” and “The Merchant of Venice” were loose parodies of the political atmosphere in England at the time. Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” also parodied political figures, such as the Queen of Hearts being a direct caricature of Queen Victoria.

In ancient Greece, political theatre was popular amongst the Athenians. Because theatre was a highly popular spectacle during those times, comic poets and theatre troupes had a considerable amount of influence in shaping the public’s opinion. Also because Athenian democracy encouraged the examination of the political atmosphere and free speech, these theatre performances were able to interpret and satirize highly controversial topics.

Political theatre was also popular during the regime of oppressive governments, such as Soviet Russia. Cabaret became a popular albeit underground form of criticizing the government through theatre, in what was seen as theatre “by the people, for the people”.

1950s Japan was a hot bed for political protest art. During American occupation of Japan after World War II, many Japanese artists painted vivid portraits that depicted life during these times. Much of this artwork depicted dramatic and realistic scenery, such as American troops standing watch over large protest rallies, or the skeletal remains of soldiers. In fact, Japan became quite adept at producing protest art and there are a number of famous artists and portrait sets from this time.

Street artwork has also played a role in modern day Eastern Congo. One iconic street art features a semi-nude woman who has covered herself in oil and attached oil filters to her breasts, as a direct protest against pollution.

Because artwork typically allows the artist to remain anonymous, it has been utilized for a long time by those who want to make their voices heard, without fear of consequence. It allows the artist to show defiance towards power holders, especially in places where governments are known for brutalizing or killing dissenters.

However, not all political artwork is anonymous, or limited to street movements. Political cartoons have long been featured in newspaper publications. Typically featuring caricatures and lampoons of politicians, these editorial cartoons have been around since about the 18th century, where they grew popular in England, especially during the French Revolution period.

Famous political cartoonists include James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson, considered the godfather’s of political cartoon in newspaper. Many of their works directly lampooned and criticized authority figures such as George III, Napoleon, and various prime ministers.

Political cartoons became especially popular in America during the Civil War era. Thomas Nast of New York City was highly successful by importing German drawing techniques that blended realism and caricature, and he was most famous for a series of 160 cartoons that ridiculed the political machine of New York City.

Finally, protest art has also been used to criticize apartheid in South Africa. Willie Bester is a famous artist who got his beginnings in the resistance artwork scene of South Africa during the 1980s. Many of Willie Bester’s art pieces are displayed in museums around the world, and some of his work has sold for incredibly high prices during auctions in London.

Arts Activism in East Congo


Arts Activism in East Congo

How effective is protest art when it comes to making change? You may be familiar with all the songs that protested against war and injustice from decades past. The arts can actually be a useful tool for sparking discussions and spreading new ideas. Art activism is a relatively peaceful way to protest, but of course one should always consider good strategy when it comes to using art this way.

In East Congo, Yole!Congo is a bright point in a region that has been torn by conflict. It gathers youth in a relatively safe place where they can develop skills and gain an education and has become the center of peaceful activism through the development of the arts. This is at a time when services like education and cultural centers have been deemed nonessential and shut down throughout regions where rebels are still active within Congo, so the youth often have few options other than joining rebel militias or fleeing the region as refugees.

The youth who attend Yole!Congo often risk their lives for their art because they may become targets for rebels. A student of cinema by the name Hubert Bonke said while being featured in a student-produced film called “Dream Under Fire”, “Dying without making my film, that would have been terrible for me!” Even with the risk, Yole!Congo serves between 14,000 and 17,000 students a year and offers a variety of free classes in the arts as well as linguistics and computer literacy.

However, the directors of Yole!Congo have criticized international efforts to get involved in local arts as a means of educating the public and providing a beacon of hope. For instance, the directors felt that a music competition put on by UNICEF and Solidarity International put too much emphasis on hand washing as a means to control cholera outbreaks in a community where access to clean water is limited and, therefore, hand washing would be of limited use at best. This and related problems for funding the arts as a means of activism prompted Yole!Congo to launch an art series titled “Art On The Front Line” to provide a platform that is free from foreign intervention that may be seen as censorship by local artists.

This emphasizes the importance of local autonomy especially when it comes to developing the arts as a means of activism. Local communities are likely to understand their own needs best and may resent the imposition of foreign interpretations of the communities’ needs. Telling people to wash their hands without helping to provide fresh water is like telling people to get more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet when fresh fruits and vegetables may not be readily available or affordable for most people in the region. For this reason, organizations like Yole!Congo usually prefer to retain control of local arts activism efforts whenever possible.

Beyond the arts activism, Yole!Congo provides practical value to the youth who attend its classes, who often go on to pursue professions in the arts, law, business, politics, journalism and education. In this way, local organizations in unstable regions can help youth feel like they have options beyond the violence happening around them and are more likely to establish successful new lives for themselves if they are accepted into more stable countries when they may be forced to flee. Because of this, Yole!Congo is one organization that is worth drawing attention to as a rare beacon of hope in a war-torn region.

Arts activism is capable of calling attention to the reality of violence and injustice in regions like East Congo if the art produced by people living in these regions can be shared with a wider audience. The people living in these situations can tell their stories if they can do it without being censored by the outside world who might mortgage their morals by twisting their art to serve a foreign agenda. For example, you can view Art on the Front Line’s Youtube channel to see what people really are going through on the front line in the Congo civil war. This kind of effort can help to dispel myths about injustices going on around the world and make people aware of real issues in regions and environments that they might not have thought of very much.

Creativity, Workshops & Peaceful Protest in the Eastern Congo

Throughout the globe arts festivals provide a platform to foster creativity through interactive workshops, panel discussions and inspirational performances. The 10 day Salaam Kivu International Film Festival (SKIFF), has these elements and more, as it is a place to express thoughts on political change for peace.

Annually 15,000+ gather from around the world in a peaceful protest against political instability and war, while celebrating the arts, learning new skills and welcoming cultural diversity. Yolé!Africa Cultural Center, hosted the 10th annual SKIFF festival in July 2015. Held in Africa, the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The festival aims to showcase the unique talent found in the Eastern Congo and it’s neighbors, bringing about positive change. Artists coming from the regions of Rwanda, Burandi and DR Congo are uniting and collaborating despite past differences.

The festival offers thought provoking panel discussions, film screenings, theater performances, dance competitions, an opening night gala, awards ceremony, and free workshops in film, video, digital art, production, music and dance. Aiming to teach youth how they might use their skills productively. The local community is drawn to this cultural light. The festival encourages the growth of a sustainable civil society as they provide artists with a platform to showcase their talent and work. Another goal is to unite people around the globe who want to help bring peace to the region.

Sample Workshops Include:
*Experimental Film-making
*Hip Hop Dance
*Documentary Film-making
*Street Photography
*Film Scoring

SKIFF (Salaam Kivu International Film Festival) was founded by Petna Ndliko Katondolo, a Congolese activist and filmmaker. He still serves as the festivals artistic director, partnering with director Cherie Rivers Ndaliko. The New York Times article, Arts Sanctuary in a War-Torn City, writes about what inspired Petna to create the annual event with his wife Cherie. He was a boy who grew up inspired by Kung Fu movies shown at the local theater, later becoming a performer himself. Catastrophe struck in 2002 when the volcano Mount Nyirigongo erupted across the city. Consequently guerrilla gunmen, in different groups, lurked for control among the anarchy. The festival was born in hopes of bringing renewal to Goma. Encouraging youth to bring about social change through the expression of art. Aspiring rap artist, “Dieudonne Dunia Kangwindi, says that the new Africa must be constructed by the youth. That they should try to make peace rather than continue with the wars their ancestors went through between DR Congo and Rwanda. He believes they must fight for reconciliation, thinking of the future. Many positive results have come from this type of thinking, including the rise of entrepreneurial spirit in the place of violence and negativity. In a recent interview, we spoke with a local business owner who is a roofer in Texas, and he agreed wholeheartedly that any organization striving to make for a better future for the youth in society is only going to be rewarded with stronger generations to come who enjoy economic strength and prosperity.

There have been challenges where warlords threatened to tread upon Goma during SKIFF. United Nations Peacekeepers urged them to close down early. Yet the audience was energized and wanted the show to go on. The relentless spirit of the festivals performers and attendees urged one another to continue onward. Some performers and advocates of the event feel there is too much emphasis on negativity in the news.

Yolé!Africa, home to SKIFF, is a media organization based in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, which specifically focuses on the next generation youth culture. The building structure is a bungalow with murals, tall stone walls and barbed wire to secure the location, which is in a residential neighborhood. Some of the artists coming out of the movement use art to promote positive activism. Their Facebook page showcases the artistry from the Congo. The short YouTube video: Yolé!Africa: Salaam Kivu International Film Festival, gives a sampling of the energy, passion and unique African modern dance found in the Eastern Congo. Break-dancing takes on an entirely new flavor when based out of the continent of Africa.

To recognize the 51st Independence Day of Democratic Republic of the Congo, Salaam Kivu All Stars released a song and music video. The video “Saisir l’avenir” meaning “to seize the future” can be seen on YouTube and features talented singers and rappers from Eastern Congo. The music is refreshingly unique from mainstream rap and hip-hop heard on popular music stations of the USA. Live sounding raw drum beats capture the modern spirit of Africa. Profoundly dancers and artists whom had attended the festival auditioned for the music video. Also the video was shot by individuals who participated in the music video workshops. Production workshops yielded powerful results.

Music and art transcend the barriers between nations, languages and our differences. The Salaam Kivu International Film Festival has the potential to make lasting change for peace.

Salaam Kivu International Film Festival

SKIFF (Salaam Kivu International Film Festival) is a 10 day festival that is organized in Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It was founded in the 2005 by internationally applauded filmmaker and campaigner Petna Ndaliko Katondolo. At that time, the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo had become the place of violence and desolation due to war that was continuously escalating in that region. Then, to combat with the disappointment among people of community and the falsification of the media, Katondolo launched this festival.

SKIFF is organized under the instructions of Yole!Africa (a youth organisation having its roots in Kampala and Goma) and Alkebu Film productions. Artists and activists from all over the world participate in this festival and share the positive nature of creative art that can be used to bring the social transformation. As its name depicts its status but its range is beyond that. Besides being a film festival, SKIFF also serves a platform for dance, art, music, audio-video production and editing. In this 10 day festival, film screening and debates are organised by bringing the local communities together. In addition, free workshops are offered in the various fields of art like film production, video or digital art production, dance and music.

The main aim of this festival is to strengthen the local community by diminishing the feeling of hatred towards the other local divisions and to aware the local communities towards harmony and reconciliation. This aim is efficiently achieved when the people belonging to different religious, economic, ethnic and linguistic division come together to participate in this festival. Thus, along with the promotion of art and cinema the social life of the people in The North-Kivu is brought to a new pace by entertaining the people and giving them the opportunity to show their talent. Special training classes and workshops are organized to improve the skills of artists and international exposure is provided by exhibiting their art to international audience. With such a large population to be served, it was critical that the infrastructure for the workshops was robust enough to handle the crowds, so the planning team actually needed to hire a door installation crew to install bigger door frames and replace the existing structure with double doors ensure better traffic flow in and out of the workshops.

The educational program is an important aspect of SKIFF.  A house is reserved by the Yole!Africa where the Yole members i.e. the youth from age of 10 to 25 come to practice dance, watch films, participate in different workshops and competitions. Many great and fantastic videos; music productions; and other art productions are a result of these workshops and the “Saisirl’avenir” was the first video that was made accessible to the international audience.

There was the 10th edition of this 10 day festival was in 2015 from 3-12 July. In this edition, along with inspiring creativeness, the local initiatives for combating the regional problem were also inspired. SKIFF 2015’s guest list was full with the names of international artists and premiers. The theme of SKIFF in 2015 has drawn the attention towards the unusual and remarkable work of Congolese. They worked for the welfare of the nation but their sacrifices often gone unnoticed in the existing atmosphere of confrontation and corruption. And now, in 2015 they were honoured for their contribution towards the goodness of society. This attractive theme was named as Mudawamasujaa which means “unsung heroes”.