Interaction Between Protest Art and Communities

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Interaction Between Protest Art and Communities

Below is a list of questions to serve as a starting framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • What can be done to involve more artists in a human rights protest?
  • In what ways can youth be educated and engaged with protest art?
  • How can different instances of protest art enter into dialogue with one another?
  • How can protest art be used in tandem or in combination with other activist tactics?
  • How can non-profit organizations protect the safety, freedom and rights of protest artists?
  • How can artists and their work be better elevated by non-profit organizations?
  • Share stories of success.
Taring Padi supporting community protest through the Arts

To start things off I thought I would share about an art activist collective that I am a part of in Indonesia and our approach to working to support community protests.


Taring Padi was formed in 1998 as part of the Indonesian reformation movement that brought down long term dictator Suharto. Taring Padi uses art as a tool for political expression and education for all. Taring Padi often work with communities to support community campaigning, and are known for our political woodcut prints, murals, banners, protest art such as cardboard puppets and paper-mache sculptures and music, particularly band Dendang Kampungan.


So how does Taring Padi start working with a community?

Usually a community that is campaigning on an issue or somebody linked to a community will approach Taring Padi. Taring Padi will often live with the community for a period or run a series of workshops. This can be for days, weeks or months depending on the situation and the desire of communities and members. The amount of Taring Padi artists that join with a community varies and can be anywhere from 1 to 20 artists depending on artists availability and funding (if needed, to cover transport, food and materials).


What does Taring Padi do with the community?

Informal getting to know each other, relationship building, hanging out and sharing stories is a key component of Taring Padi’s approach and inline with Indonesian and particularly local Javanese culture. On top of informal getting to know you and spontaneous art making, Taring Padi also runs workshops, these can be anything from woodcut printing, mural painting, t-shirt printing, making giant sculptures and cardboard puppets and singing and writing songs together. Through this process Taring Padi learns about what is happening in the community and helps the community articulate their issues through art, while also sharing artistic skills, stories of other campaigns and strategizing. Taring Padi strongly believes that everybody can do art, and encourages all, no matter their level of artistic talent, to participate. Activities connect with a cross section of the community including community leaders, men, women, children, young people, farmers and workers. The art that is created then usually comes together into a big celebration protest in the form of a street parade and concert, demonstration or festival (or combination).  Traditional arts and cultural practices from the community are also embraced and incorporated into the art and celebration.


What is the impact?

This approach enables the community to articulate and share their concerns about an issue in a way that is fun and accessible.  By using various artistic mediums and through living and creating relationships with the community, the whole of community is engaged and has an opportunity to share their voice and community culture and identity are celebrated. This helps unify and energize the community, while also giving them alternative means to engage and advocate in the future. And knowing that there are people outside of their community that care about their plight also helps invigorate and legitimize campaigns. The approach also provides the community with tools that they can used in future protests and can remain permanently in communities. Additionally by framing the art protests as a community celebration that involves all, it reduces risk as they are less likely to be attacked by opposing forces or targeted by the police or military (a common problem with protests in Indonesia). Additionally, by creating collective community art work people become anonymous in collectivism and thus are less likely to be individually targeted. The creative, colorful means of expression of community issues also increases the likelihood of media covering the issue and drawing broader attention to the campaign.


Examples of Taring Padi and communities in action can be seen in the below films: Reflections in the mud: Remembering the Lapindo Mud Disaster (Against Coal Mining: Taring Padi in Batang)

or follow Taring Padi on Facebook (

All culture is local

What you are doing in Indonesia is very impressive Annie. I"m struck by a line you wrote above: "inline with Indonesian and particularly local Javanese culture" This seems to be the key to successful relationship between protest art and local communities. Culture may be a universal condition of humanity, but we all have separate cultures, right?

I'm always made aware of this when doing workshops  activists and artists around the world. As part of our (Center for Artistic Activism) trainings we always end with imagining, planning, building props for and execution of a creative action -- all in 24 hours. We always know that we've been successful if we, the folks from New York City, don't fully understand the signs and symbols and stories being mobilized in the piece. It means to me  that the piece speaks to the culture of the community from which the participants are a part, rather than some abstract principles of "artistic activism."

Engaging Youth
Here is one example of a Bay Area program, MMAP (Mural, Music & Arts Project), doing great work engaging youth in protest art.  (Some of my college students have worked with MMAP, facilitating after school programs in visual arts and music.)  MMAP enables students to create visual and performance art telling the stories of their lives, and helps youth learn about the political power of art.
In an ideal world, all youth could have access to some kind of program like MMAP—sadly, arts education (in the US, anyway) is perpetually underfunded, and political art, especially funded by taxpayer money, is periodically under assault.