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Socio-political Issues

Francisco de Goya
The Third of May 1808, 1814
Oil on canvas
268 x 347 cm (106 x 137 in.)
Museo del Prado, Madrid

For centuries, art has conveyed political messages, both outside of and within church or state patronage. Artists such as Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Eugène Delacroix addressed political and social issues of their time through their work. Goya's painting, The Third of May 1808 (1814), for instance, depicts the execution of Spanish civilians by French soldiers during the Peninsular War and is regarded as a masterpiece of political art.

During the 1960s in the United States, a wave of anti-war and socially-engaged artwork emerged in response to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Artists such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg , and Barbara Kruger created works that critiqued American consumerism, politics, and imperialism by incorporating found objects and everyday materials and exploring themes such as globalization, gender roles, and the environment.

The Minjung art movement emerged in Korea during the 1980s in response to the Gwangju Massacre, in which over 300 peaceful protesters were killed by government troops. The movement used art as a means of criticizing imperialism and authoritarianism, celebrating working-class laborers, and challenging the dominant political and social narratives of the time. Minjung artists drew on the rich tradition of Korean folk art and woodblock printing to create powerful images that spoke of the struggles of ordinary people.

Politically-engaged art remains one of the most prominent types of work being created today, with artists from around the world using their art to comment on issues such as immigration, environmentalism, and human rights. Contemporary artists such as Ai Weiwei, Kara Walker, and Banksy have gained international acclaim for their politically-engaged work, which challenge the status quo and prompt important conversations about the state of our society. Chilean-born artist Alfredo Jaar, based in New York City, is another contemporary artist whose practice addresses issues of globalization, immigration, and the legacy of colonialism through installations such as Gold in the Morning (1986) and The Rwanda Project (1994).

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