I originally published this post on the Portsmouth and Southsea Consortium‘s Website in February 2017 as part of the PortsConsort Postcard series.
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a number of independent and small-to-medium business, encompassing artists, artisans, craftspeople, designers, makers and all manner of other categories of creative professional come under fire from colleagues, contemporaries and peers alike for using their professional platforms to express political sentiments. We just want to take a couple of minutes to reassure you that it’s OK for you to be political on your professional platforms, or via any other method of communication you have with your customers, partners or suppliers, for example.
Art has always been political. Craft has always been political. We, generally speaking, think this is increasingly so, but it’s simply the case that more and more people are becoming aware of the historical links between creating, doing and making, and civil and social action – and aware of the importance of making sure these links aren’t ‘simply’ something that was of the past, but remain something of the present in order for us to have a future.
Take a look at the Pussy Hat Project for the women’s marches that took place across the World on 21 January, and all the wonderfully disruptive discussion and polemic that caused. Think about the many and varied forms in which craftivism has been present over recent years, with small hand-made interventions tackling colossal corporate issues, amongst others. Be shocked by Pyotr Pavlensky’s performance protest art. Go back to 1969 and John and Oko’s Bed-in for Peace. We could go on and on and on, talking about Ai Weiwei, Banksy, the Guerrilla Girls, Isaac Julien, Norman Rockwell, Picasso, Pussy Riot… But, we think you get the idea by now. These people’s creativity and politics were/are inextricable from each another, and intrinsic to both their personal and professional lives.
Think of, also, the hundreds of people whose work is uncredited, unknown or unrecognised – all those who made banners and placards, badges and pins, flyers and posters, and costumes and parade floats – for every demonstration and every protest from the suffrage movement to the civil rights movement to every pride march since the Stonewall riots… Everything created. Everything designed. Everything made.
This brings us to the most godawful friggin’ cliché, but something that remains a fundamental truth to all of us with a creative practice, whether this is political or not: As skilled artisans/artisans/craftspeople/whatever, we quite literally have the power to shape the world around us, to shape the world in which we live – to shape the world we want to leave behind. We have the power to make the change we want to see – or, at least, help it on its way. We use our bodies, we use tools, we use whatever we can to fashion what we need to challenge, to disrupt, to interrupt, to intervene and to help tell our stories as well as others’.
And we have the right to speak out and speak about culture, politics, society – whatever – alongside our creative practices and businesses. If you want to do this, do it. If someone tries to stop you, ask them why. Then ignore them and carry on. Chances are, you’ll have not changed their mind (nor they yours), but you will have started talking about things. And that’s always the first step towards sorting things out.
Also, at the same time as we say this, we also recognise that not everyone is able to exercise the right to be political and, indeed, not everyone wants to. We have to accept the former and respect the latter, no matter what our personal beliefs.
Now, as we move forward, it’s OK to walk the line between ‘everything is OK’ and ‘the World is a rubbish tip fire that can be seen from space’. It’s as OK to talk about a cat you’ve fussed in the street or what a Sicilian breakfast is as it is to dissect the politics of the most powerful nation-state on the face of the planet. It’s as OK to promote an item you’ve made and listed in your online shop as it is to share details of resources that allow you to make a contribution to aid efforts in countries experiencing a humanitarian crisis.