The artist as Catalyst for Change

I have always been committed to projects where the visual arts are a vector not only of artistic expression, but also a reflection of a social or political engagement, where the artists involved are questioning and commenting their own contemporary history.Nikki Diana Marquardt

……And thus my two dimensional approach to contemporary art.

As well as presenting works by more established names of the Contemporary Art world, I have actively used my Gallery to launch fresh talent from the vast emerging international art scene. Far from a purely speculative approach, I have always considered the political and social framework of artworks and the artists that make them and how they bring a new viewpoint to the surface.

For 25 years now, I have focused on contemporary artists from emerging countries, and conflict zones (Eastern Europe, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iran, Bosnia, Algeria, Syria, Palestine, Iraq…)

It struck me in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall that art/artists had not only an aesthetic responsibility but a social and political responsibility. In 1990 I traveled extensively in the former east bloc and was literally blown away by the extraordinary artwork that had come out of 50 years of repression and totalitarian government.  Astoundingly sensitive and relentlessly critical: a feast for a political animal like myself.

I like so many of us had been so thoroughly frustrated by stale and relentless media coverage so prone to exaggeration and pathos when reporting the vast changes that had taken place in the east bloc and the adjustment to democracy as beautiful as it might seem. Artists  came out of hiding and blossomed and the 50 years of misery became the leitmotiv of their work … so much human tragedy and suffering surfaced like a recurring nightmare and a new art form was born.: Political and conflict art… art which grows as a reaction to   repression, tyranny, social injustice and human misery.

From there inspired by the artists in ex-Yugoslavia, during the war in Bosnia I traveled extensively to Sarajevo organizing exhibitions and financing cultural projects during the siege… Culture, art are fundamental to what makes us human … a necessity like food… or water. The Bosnians taught me this… the theatres and concert halls never closed and there were art galleries that continued to function during one the 4 year siege of the city.

This art form brings another kind of message and support to those living in terrible conflicts…it is an art which is identifies, defines and comments on problems afflicting contemporary society and is created by artists who are interested in spreading that message and in doing so finding a way to move towards resolution and reconciliation. This unique artistic vocation where indeed the artist is a catalyst for change, transforms this ineffectual media message to one that changes the world and helps relieve the distress and grief associated with conflict.

Instead of frustration we discover an extraordinary way of looking at what was once an impossible situation through the eyes of these extraordinary individuals who reveal the truth, who intervene, create and share their vision motivating  and encouraging individuals to become themselves catalysts for change.

My personal direction was dictated from 1993 on (Bosnia) by events that shook my world and that of my neighbors… (Which basically means everywhere on this planet)…  Belfast (The Bridge1996…. Religious intolerance)… (Algeria 1997, Algerie, Je ne quitterai jamais mes amis » Civil War,)  (Palestine1999-2000, “Palestine in Progress a room with a Viewpoint” unjust  social and political situation) (Lebanon, 2000 “Welcome to Khiam” revelation of an illegal detention camp in South Lebanon) and then in 2003 worked closely with Palestine state and a political solution. .. (Afghanistan 2007-2015 artistic projects and events in Paris promoting Afghan artists (2009, 2010, 2011, “Making of an Artist, “the Contemporary Challenge,” ) and Iranian, Iraqi, Indonesian, Lebanese, Egyptian artists…  and now With my NGO “Work in Progress” whose goal is to rebuild conflict and post conflict society through culture and education we are now reactivating and rebooting the art scene and educational projects in Afghanistan  and Iraq and hopefully Syria.

What I personally find inspiring in this genre is that there are no interminable studies or rational interfaces here…just direct, straightforward human dealing: person to person. Interrogating and probing the society on a grassroots level by the artist catalyst is effective and at the same time human and poignant. There are those artists that are indigenous to a crisis in a society and therefore directly implicated in such problems and also those who travel from across borders to intervene in a conflict zone …Both through their artwork generate and inspire reconciliation and resolution in these troubled areas. Then there are those artists who might be inspired or outraged from afar by a human catastrophe or a flagrant political injustice… his voice through his artwork changes the way in which the world looks at this issue.

We witness a daily stream of information and photos … videos, tweets, blogs photos of what once was Aleppo, or Baghdad or Kabul or so many  other zones of conflict and misery… displaced persons refugees boat people, victims of war famine earthquake, illegal detention, feminicide, human trafficking.

Conflict art and the notion of the artist as a catalyst for change has gone global like everything else… artists and art have now a new flavor… not just pleasing to the eye, but giving a viewpoint, a message or information that literally rocks us out of our passivity and paralysis and provokes a deep reaction to help change the world we live in and makes us aware in a personal and direct manner… of our responsibility as citizens of this global community to do something for the progress of humanity.

Next week Biennale di Venezia

Week after… The Artists who Inspire Change : Nora Darwich, Fritz Best, Lorena Wolfer, Heba Amin, Shamsia Hassani, Furat Al Jamil, Mustapha Ali, Alexandra Handal. Nedko Solakov, Mirsad Jazic….. ​

Nikki Diana Marquardt

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