Bree Newsome, a 30-year-old helmeted art activist, scaled the South Carolina State House flagpole in the wee hours of June 28 and tore down the Confederate flag. It was almost 100 years since the Civil War.
It is easy to dismiss Newsome’s actions as a social-media stunt. Many people have dismissed it as a social media stunt. The Baltimore Sun cited two South Carolina legislators. Democratic State Senator Marlon Kmpson and Republican State Senate Shane Massey as saying that the action was counterproductive.
Yes, Newsome was detained and the flag was raised again. Newsome’s climb can still be seen as significant socially engaged performance art, which brought attention to the flag problem. It will eventually be removed and encourage people to reflect on the meaning of the flag, especially for African Americans.
There Two Types Of Socially-Engaged Art
Let’s have a closer look at the reasons for this. Two types of socially engaged art can be classified, actual practice and symbolic practice. (Newsome’s climb, the latter.
Pablo Helguera, artist and performer, has made the idea of actual and symbolic practice central to his book Education for Socially Engaged Art. Helguera is also the curator of public programming at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. He sees symbolic practice in socially motivated representations of ideas and issues in art.
Sonya Clark’s timely pieces, Unravel & Unravel, were a good example of symbolic practice. They were display at New York’s Mix Greens gallery days before the Charleston murders. Clark displays two Confederate flags in the work. Clark and volunteers completely dismantled one of the flags during performances in the space. The threads then bundle together into piles of blue, white, and red. The other half is still partially unravel.
Mother Jones noted that Clark used the flag unravel to evoke the slow, patient work involved in unravel racism. Actual practice projects, however, are direct actions that have an impact beyond gallery walls. Rick Lowe’s Project Row Houses, for example, preserved and revived a historic Houston neighbourhood. Tania Bruguera’s immigrant movement international offers workshops, events and actions for the public.
These large-scale projects ground in aesthetics and art. These projects provide social and community services, as well as gallery, performance, and gathering spaces poker pelangi.
Public Expression Encourages Change
Helguera emphasizes the importance of both kinds of practice in his book. He also discusses Jurgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Act, which suggests that social change is possible when people engage in rationally argumentative public conversations. This means that people must duke it out, in civil disagreement. Helguera says that communicative actions can have an lasting effect on the political and cultural spheres as a true freedom force.
Favianna Rodriguez is an activist artist whose work focuses on empowering people about racism and inequality. She points out that artists and cultural workers are crucial to achieving lasting and significant social change. This done by changing minds and hearts through culture and eventually by shifting power within communities. Rodriguez believes that legislative and policy changes are a two-step process and emphasizes that you must first change the culture before you can change politics.
National Conversation Art
This kind of national conversation can had by linking the Confederate flag’s symbolism to the murder of nine black men at their Bible study church in Charleston, as well as the Charleston shooting.
Here’s why Newsome was performing art when she climbed the Confederate flag. It took place in real life, and it served as a metaphor to dismantle institutionalized racism. The Superwoman-styled action of Newsome added a collective exclamation point for the demands to remove Confederate flag while tapping into deeply rooted American mythology about individual heroism.
People can mobilize large groups of people and bring about permanent change. That part of the myth is true. Newsome’s actions were a message to those who are tire waiting for racial justice and reenergize them for what lies ahead.
Although her action of removing the South Carolina State Capitol’s divisive flag did not permanently remove it from the Capitol, it attracted a lot of media attention. As a thrilling and vicarious experience, she performed an action movie gesture to remove the Confederacy symbol, which has been synonymous with racism for many.