Art Under Oppression
The world moves ever closer to the edge of destruction — fascists and other oppressors are willing to tear society apart for the sake of the preservation of a specific order. Fascism and the oppressors are known to be capitalistic, and every so often, they will intervene in society through violence, electoral politics, and cultural movements in order to rectify what they perceive to be undesirable changes in society. In all this creation of culture, the establishment of cultural movements and scientific movements to justify the current structures and laws, we lose our understanding of the meaning of art — art becomes no longer a simple tool of cultural and individual expression. Art is not a passive individualistic tool. Art is the soul of the people, the soul of society — art itself is a political statement, and in understanding this, we become empowered to use art.
Art has historically been censored by fascistic regimes, as it is often seen as a major center of criticism politically, economically, and socially. Art is culture, and authoritarian regimes seek to control culture — fascist regimes during the 1920’s and 1930’s destroyed great bodies of art and literature because they considered it antithetical to their goals. The Nazi Party declared much of modern art “Degenerate,” and destroyed many works of famous painters, mainly avante Garde pieces that criticized social constructs which the Nazi Party wished to reinforce. The German government would censor or ban works which questioned the traditional roles of the family and which were critical of racialization, pieces which denatured race, gender, and sexuality, as these would discredit their view of how the world worked. The German propaganda machine discredited and assaulted those who had not stepped in line, and praised those whose cultural works they perceived to be beneficial to their view of the Germans as a superior race.
With the coming of a new fascistic wave of nationalism, we are faced once again with the questions of how art will respond. Art is the sigh of the oppressed, the expression of their deepest feelings and emotions, and to remove art which was critical of unjust social constructs, hierarchies, and classes would be to destroy the nature of art itself. To understand this we must ask what the purpose of art must be under oppression. Art is the understanding of the oppressed people that they are oppressed, it is an extended conversation with society which continually questions and criticizes it. It is the anger, the fury of the people repressed into materially non-violent presentations. The culture of the oppressed is a culture intrinsically geared towards liberation — art may set society free of the many ills it feels. Art, by its very nature is understood to be critical of the world — it is the expression of the voice of the worker, the person of color, the queer person, the woman in nonverbal form, because some things cannot be said aloud. Even verbal art is the articulation of a long series of demands for society to listen to the voices of the people. The liberation of the people is purely grounded in artistic expression.
How should art respond to the dissolution of gender studies in Hungary? How should it respond to the fascistic coalition ruling Italy? How should it respond to mass racism and anti-Semitism once again rising in Germany? How should it respond to the increased violence of the Right worldwide? It is simple, in my opinion that the creation of art must be increased, that it must be as critical as ever — any revolution, any resistance, must destroy the culture upholding the oppressors. All oppression is justified by a complex web of social hierarchies, some of gender, some of race, some of class, and some of sexuality, and to destroy all of these, we must form art critical of each of these structures, and we must dismantle the structures of class, race, gender, and sexuality. The correct use of art is in the questioning of the dominant organization of society. There is no other expression of the nature of art which I personally could understand. Therefore let the oppressed express their rage, their anger, their hatred of their oppression, and let it not act as a relief valve but a channel through which society realizes the faults with which it is rife. Culture is a weapon. Art is a weapon. We must adequately understand this to destroy the culture which oppresses the marginalized — to understand this is to understand that any expression of resistance, any writing, any act, any play, any painting which denatures the structures upholding the current order is in accordance with the nature of art. Art is resistance to society. Art is criticism of society.
Where should we turn our vast criticism? Ultimately, the goal of art is the non-commodification of art. Art should be produced regardless of the exchange value produced with it — it should be an expression of society and the class, race, gender, or sexuality, or any other characteristics of that person. If we are to understand Art, we must understand liberation. To understand liberation, we must study the conditions of the oppression of the people, and we must organize them to create their own art, to question, and to destroy the constructs in which they participate. For the reaction we see now is only the natural result of a capitalist society — both left and right are attacking neoliberalism, and both claim to be the legitimate voice of the people. The difference is that one offers liberation and the other slavery. And art is on the side of the liberationists.