AH30650 Art/Resistance/Activism

Academic Year 2023/2024

What is political art? How have art and visual cultures been employed as strategies of protest across the globe? Does art have the potential to enact social change? Looking at some possible answers to these questions, this module will look at cultures of protest, resistance, and activism, through an art-historical lens. We will explore the ways in which art-making, curating, and exhibiting since the early twentieth century until today have engaged with diverse struggles for social justice across cultures, identities, and geographies. Over the course of this term, we will be looking at different strategies and mediums to investigate how artists in diverse social, historical, and political settings have interpreted and responded to experiences of discrimination, disenfranchisement, violence, political ineptitude, and silencing. We will examine how, through art-making and exhibitions, artists have brought communities together, created safe spaces for vulnerable and marginalised peoples, enacted tangible political change, and critiqued status quo.

Among other themes, this module explores topics such as politics of representation and its limits in the AIDS crisis in the US, Congo, and in Poland, and in the context of art making under military dictatorships in South America, particularly Chile and Brazil. We will look at socially engaged art, for example practices of artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn and Rirkrit Tiravanija. We will explore the culture wars and sex and censorship in museums in the US and Poland, for example looking at the recent removal of Natalia LL’s artwork from the National Museum in Warsaw and censoring of David Wojnarowicz’s work at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. We will discuss the right to revolt by any means necessary in relation to the Black Art Movement and art in apartheid South Africa, as well as postcolonial theory and decolonising discourses looking at the international All Monuments Must Fall movement and transnational debates on repatriation. We will examine art and anti-war protest with the discussion of the Art Workers Coalition and the Vietnam War, protest art in Israel-occupied Palestine, and resistance art of the Holocaust. We will also discuss ecocritical perspectives in art history, looking at entropy, Land Art, sustainable art practices, and the climate emergency as a social justice issue.

This module at its core aims to decolonise art-historical narratives of the canon, the centre/periphery model, the centrality of Western Anglophone narratives, and the teleological readings of Euro-American modernism. Through its selection of both case studies and secondary readings, it puts forth diverse, intersectional voices and perspectives. As such, across the term, the module overall proposes a critical approach of resisting the traditional perceptions of the discipline of Art History itself.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

At the end of this module, students should be able to demonstrate the following:

- A good knowledge and understanding of visual cultures of protest and activism from a variety of political, geographical, and historical contexts
- A familiarity with and understanding of a range of set texts and critical and theoretical sources relevant to the course
- An ability to perform detailed visual analysis and relate it to a relevant political/social/historical context
- An ability to approach the discipline of art history from a critical perspective

Indicative Module Content:

Lectures and seminars topics include
- Socially-engaged practice
- Art and the Mexican Revolution
- Art Workers' Coalition and the Vietnam War
- Art under military dictatorships in South America
- Resistance art in Palestine
- Black Arts Movement
- Art in apartheid South Africa
- Sex and censorship
- Visual cultures of HIV/AIDS Activism
- Ecocriticism and Land Art
- All Monuments Must Fall movement.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Seminar (or Webinar)




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This course includes three contact hours a week, including one lecture and two hours of seminars. It is planned for maximum student participation and many activities will be student-led, so you are expected to always read the required texts and come prepared to get as much as possible out of this module.

The module will include a gallery visit (TBC).
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade In Module Component Repeat Offered
Assignment: Project Outline Week 7 n/a Graded No


Assignment: Final Project: essay, podcast, or artwork Week 12 n/a Graded No


Presentation: Class Presentation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No



Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

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