Often, design initiatives are not necessarily linked to designers, artists or organisations in an official capacity. There are many contexts where people create art but instead of calling themselves designers or artists, they more closely identify with activists. This is most often the case in places that are somewhat politically unstable. Countries like Indonesia and Italy share this sense of disillusionment when thinking about their governments. Locals use graffiti and street art as a form of expression to fight the political climate of their countries. While these people are inspired activists, they ultimately design every aspect of their work.
During a recent trip to Indonesia, I discussed the national politics with a local artist and activist from Surakarta. Currently living in Yogyakarta, Benk Riyade shared his work with me, highlighting the power of art’s ability to question society norms and educate the masses in an informal environment. Riyade was working on a mural under the bridge in Kampung Kali Kode. He (Riyade, B. 2017, interview, 3 February) wanted his work to educate the working class about Indonesia’s current political climate.
Whilst Benk Riyade’s work is considered street art, a form of creativity that is often criticised by heavy weights in the fine arts world, it is ultimately an expression of skill and imagination. When asked he (Riyade, B. 2017, interview, 3 February) agreed that he was an artist, but only as a product of his real work which was education and, in my opinion, activism.
While on an overnight trip to Genova, the amount of politically fuelled illegal graffiti was astounding. At this time, Italy was struggling with the influx of refugees from Syria with 262,482 recorded refugees in 2015/16 (Clayton, J. 2016). Each of these street artworks was carefully curated and designed by anonymous activists to send a message in support of or in opposition to current governmental foreign policies. One of the most significant artworks was of a 23-year-old Italian boy, Carlo Giuliani, who, during a G8 protest in Genova, was shot by police (Boschi, F. 2016). The instability in the area which allowed for events such as this to occur left many outraged and distrustful, leading some, like the artist of this particular portrait, to channel their activism into street art by reminding officials of their past mistakes.
The power of Riyade’s work and the anonymous street art is in the design, allowing these artists to communicate their ideas with the wider public through a non-verbal means. Each expression of activism is carefully designed to ensure that they affect their audience in the way that they were intended to.
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Boschi, F. 2016, ‘Pronte tredicimila firme per cancellare la vergogna della targa a Carlo Guiliani’, il Giornale Politica, 21 July 2016, viewed 15 February 2016, < http://www.ilgiornale.it/news/politica/pronte-tredicimila-firme-cancellare-vergogna-targa-carlo-1287408.html>.
Clayton, J. 2016, ‘Over 300,00 refugees and migrants cross Med so far in 2016’, RefWorld UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, 20 September 2016, viewed 15 February 2017, < http://www.refworld.org/country,,UNHCR,,ITA,,57e143884,0.html>.
Clement-Couzner, M. 2012, Carlo Giuliani, fcollective, viewed 15 February 2017, < https://fcollective.wordpress.com/2012/07/13/art-meets-politics-on-the-streets-of-rome/>.
Huffington Post. 2013, Yogyakarta Street Art, Huffington Post, viewed 15 February 2017, < http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/19/global-street-art-mocatv-digiesigit-anti-tank-project-yogyakarta-jogja_n_3109811.html>.
Riyade, B. 2017, Interviewed by Eliza Nugan, Indonesia, 3 February.
Qi, Y. 2017, Riyade in Kampung Kali Kode, 3 February.