Social Activism & Art

Sebastião Salgado in The Salt of the Earth

This past week I ended up watching two different documentaries about artists: The Salt of the Earth & Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. While I DO recommend you watch both movies, I don’t recommend you watching them one after the other the way I did. It’s just too depressing that way.

Why would art documentaries be depressing?

Both artists, Sebastião Salgado & Ai Weiwei, deal wit social/political issues and it just gets depressing to see how cruel and oppressive humanity can be. In the Salt of the Earth, you even see how Sebastião gets broken down by it. He documented famine and war in Africa, burning oil fields in Iraq, and just saw humans treated worse than dirt. The suffering he saw was unimaginable. That’s why he chose to document it, so that people could at least glimpse the horrors that were happening. With Never Sorry, you see Ai Weiwei choose to fight his government, using his art and his international fame to bring light to the atrocities China commits on its people.

Salgado in front of one of his Genesis photographs

I do want to mention that Salt of the Earth is a beautiful film to watch. Wim Wenders is one of my favorite directors and he really created a mood that matched the beauty in Salgado’s photographs. I was even able to see Wrangle Island, which I read about earlier this year. What Salgado does to bring himself out of the depths of despair does leave one with a hope for humanity, so while this one is tougher in some aspects, it’s also uplifting in others. So basically, a Wim Wenders film ;^)

Obviously, I’m not a social activist artist, but I think that artists like these two are important for society. They are a check and balance system, a kind of reverse propaganda. Really a mirror held up to our culture. That’s why I get frustrated seeing how little art matters in this country. Would a scenario like in Monuments Men happen now? Well, we haven’t sent anyone into Palmyra to protect their antiquities, so I guess no. Now I’m just upset again.

Who are some social activist artists that you admire? Who do you think has shed light on important issues? Share in the comments so we can all look into the mirror and hopefully change the world.

2 thoughts on “Social Activism & Art

  1. Wonderful blog. Vik Muniz immediately comes to mind for his project/film “Wasteland.” Many of the paintings/works I have created in the past three years have some message about the environment, probably or mostly because I’ve just graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary art…but, I wonder (out loud) how receptive collectors are to purchasing pieces with a statement that might reflect negatively on our own lack of participation in leaving the world a better place?


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