With tumultuous political times come great art. Think of the 1960s and the art and music that came out as a response to the Civil Rights Movement, the sexual revolution and of course, the Vietnam War that became enshrined into American culture and our collective zeitgeist.
In today’s tumultuous times where protests again fill the streets and there is a general unease in the social and political world, once again the industries of art and entertainment have responded with great works.
It started back in 2016, with the release of rapper YG’s song, “FDT” (F•ck Donald Trump). The song, which criticizes then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s policies, became a rally cry for the anthem searching young, left-rap-listening audience. Kendrick Lamar’s hit single “Alright,” off his 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” also became somewhat of a protest anthem as it gained usage by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Post Trump’s election, further music, especially on the hip-hop side of the spectrum, has continued to both explicitly target the president’s politics, as well as other social and political issues in the country that are relevant to the genre’s diverse, young audience. Back in November of 2016, the legendary, socially conscious hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, released their final album: “We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service.” The album touches on today’s relevant social issues, such as institutional racism, police brutality and gentrification. It also directly criticized the president’s policies with the protest hymn “We the people…” In April of 2017, New York MC Joey Bada$$ released his second studio album “ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$,” which explored, at times overwhelmingly, themes of political angst.
Outside of hip-hop, other musicians such as Fiona Apple, with her song “Tiny Hands,” and “Locker Room Talk” by Cold War Kids specifically target the president, and in the Cold War Kids’s case, his comments regarding women.
Beyond music, contemporary artists such as Rirkit Tirvavanija have specifically created work in response to the 2016 election. His collage piece, “the tyranny of common sense has reached its final stage,” was made using a collage of New York Times articles on the presidential campaign directly following the election. Street artist Shepard Fairey (creator of the famous Obama “Hope” campaign poster) and Ai Weiwei recently teamed up to launch a series of artwork (printed on limited edition skateboard decks) “commemorating” Trump’s first 100 days in office.
Maybe the piece of recent protest art that has found a place the most in American hearts is the bronze statue “Fearless Girl,” by artist Kristen Visbal. The 50 inch statue depicts a small girl, chin up, in defiance to the “Charging Bull” Wall Street Statue. The statue has been granted a year long residence, but many hope for its permanent installation. The statue isn’t a direct response to anyone or anything, but instead represents within it a defiance by those marginalized or oppressed in this country.
Protest art is American art, as a country based in the ideals of free expression, its continued proliferation and creation is pure patriotism. It does not seem that the politically motivated/protest art movement is letting up soon, and the immediate future will be an interesting time for artistic expression.