What aesthetic reforms might occur in 2020?
Written by Pete Armitage and edited by Sarah Martin
For several months now, we have witnessed extraordinary upheaval. Regardless of our place in society as individuals, we are all somehow affected by the George Floyd protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s truly impossible to circumvent the disruption as our milieu is recast before our very eyes.
On a philosophical level, the period has served as a salient reminder of the shortfallings of humanity - we have such a long way to go in materialising our values in the pursuit of real equality. Likewise, our moment in the limelight as apex predator on this random planet is seemingly vain; we ought to make sure we care for one another during our most likely brief tenure of existence.
When reflecting on our past it almost feels like we were living in a hysterical slumber. The endemic racism highlighted by the current protests is shockingly obvious, and this welcome activism will galvanise our ideas and beliefs forevermore.
During a time of such great upheaval, art will as ever illuminate the human condition, sublimate the zeitgeist and depict our future by symbolic and metaphorical means.
We have no answers as to our destiny, but creators will respond to this novel scenario and foster our shared sense of identity.
When asking the question as to how artistic style might transfigure in response, we might look to our past for answers and enlightenment on the issue.
We can only speculate what will be relevant.
Let’s take a moment to ruminate on this moment in time - in order to perhaps reveal the prospective characterisations of post-2020 art movements and styles.
When we look around us at this time we see confusion. A frequent topic of discussion of late is the blithe ignorance that has typified the millennial generation in particular. We’ve been blessed enough to exist in an era (in Europe) where WWII is but a distant memory - most of those who were present are long gone, along with their wisdom. Memories of the cold war too, are now obscure reminiscences, arguably the last ‘great’ threat to European wellness barely a blip on the millenial’s jizz-in-the-wind radar.
But truly, haven’t we all just been reminded of our utter fragility and naivety? As individuals, societies and a species? This ‘reminder’ is unsettling, but true. And it’s the question on everyone’s lips; now what? What actually matters?
The events of 2020 have materialised issues that were previously less tangible. The superficial is now irrelevant. Suddenly, the privileged, and those who are lucky enough not to experience oppression have been exposed to the suffering of People of Colour. Our objectives are clearer than ever, crystallised in particular in 2020 by the unfortunate murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests:
- The police need to be defunded - a process which has proven to be excruciatingly difficult, especially in the USA with the current racist government.
To quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the matter ‘...defunding police means defunding police. It does not mean budget tricks or funny math. It does not mean moving school police officers from the NYPD budget to the Department of Education’s budget so the exact same police remain in schools.’
- In order to circumvent the election of racist organisations like the Trump administration the white and privileged need to actively campaign for government reform. Passivity just isn’t an option anymore.
Indeed, experts from the OHCHR (Office of The High Commissioner) of the United Nations recently condemned modern-day racial terror lynchings in US and called for systemic reform and justice.
- The inequality illuminated by recent events sheds further light on systemic unfairness in our healthcare systems - often designed to benefit the wealthy and vitiate the vulnerable and oppressed.
Statistics reveal that the latest overall COVID-19 mortality rate for Black Americans is about 2.3 times as high as the rate for Whites and Asians in the USA. Shocking figures that confirm widespread institutional racism.
There are many different ‘campaign’ vehicles by which we can achieve the above. Direct action is necessary. Artists need to directly use their platforms to their maximum potential to achieve justice for those that deserve it. This is the aesthetic reform we ought to anticipate.
Furthermore, perhaps our newfound aesthetic sensibilities will reflect a sort of sudden call to action, a mobilisation of the people in response to the generation of millennials failing to succeed in a system arguably designed to pacify, depress and distract us. A system where higher education is required, but is prohibitively expensive. A system where minimum wages are so low that they interdict workers from being able to invest in their future, struggling to make ends meet; day in, day out.
The last decade has seen some progression towards equality for sure. But we are nowhere near. Moreover, racial justice needs to be tackled by everyone, especially white people and the privileged in general. White people have a responsibility to compensate for the abhorrence of their ancestor’s past. Slavery still exists. The privileged need to practice self-awareness and realise they have the luxury to think about the future of the planet. To think about the future at all. Many people of colour just don’t have the time nor the resources to think about anything else but bare survival.
Here in Europe there is often a sentiment that racism isn’t so much of a problem - that things are liberal and we all enjoy a tolerant, equal society. This is pure bullshit. Our media, governments, justice systems and culture is infected with racist systems. We have to actively identify and unlearn. And acknowledge that racism is ubiquitous, even if it doesn’t affect us.
Listen to what People of Colour are saying. Understand that the voices of POC are often not heard nor believed.
Sign petitions, donate money, time and be active.
Use your platform as an artist to inform, inspire and mobilise.
Black Lives Matter are just one of many international organisations fighting for the rights of People Of Colour.
Here are some organisations to donate to:
Founded in 1909 in response to the ongoing violence against Black people around the USA, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) is the largest and most pre-eminent civil rights organization in the USA
Black Lives Matter
We appreciate your support of the movement and our ongoing fight to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy forever.
Donate to fuel our campaigns for justice.
The Initiative Schwarze Menschen in Deutschland Bund e.V. is a non-profit, registered association. They have made it their mission to represent the interests of black people in Germany and to stand up for justice in the migration society.
Most of us have experienced drastic lifestyle changes over the course of the last months. Particularly touring artists, who, after spending years on the road, were faced with sedentary confinement until further notice. One can only glance inward during such times, and it’s almost impossible to not engage in an appraisal of ourselves and our surroundings.
Through forced introspection comes revelation. On an individual level we might manifest a microcosmic instance of the destruction and transformation processes occurring around us. However in tandem with the opportunity for growth, there is also a wicked temptation to null our senses and ignore the evolutionary chapter that is unfolding.
We just have no excuse to passively excuse oppression anymore. By not taking action and vocalising our condemnation of racism we are allowing it to take place. Why up until now have the police in the country heralded as the greatest in the world got away with racism? It’s rampant and blatantly obvious. George Floyd was murdered. And countless other People Of Colour have lost their lives due to police brutality in the past. But nobody gave a shit.
Why have we been sleeping for so long? How have we forgotten our values? How have we become so apathetic to graphic videos of our fellow citizens being murdered by the police? We need to be vigilant, we need to call people out. The term being ‘woke’ is a very literal reflection of where we need to be now. Let’s not skirt around the issue of race. It needs to be addressed directly in art, and in action.
Such a stark reminder of the fragility of our existence can only inspire us to create without regret. The realisation of our impermanence is powerful and can not only stimulate us to operate without fear, but to somehow strive to capture the magic of fleeting revelations and meditations in our work.
Perhaps post-2020 aesthetics will favour simplicity and functionality. We need not complicate our perceptions or emotions with complex phenomena. Let us relish the lucid and pure in order to gain a greater understanding of ourselves.
As our ‘universe’ as we know it crumbles beneath our feet, and in our minds, we question the mere fabric of our existence. Sartre’s venerated conception of ‘existential dread’ is bandied around willy-nilly, but now we are actually faced with a universal realisation of our collective mortality. The natural persuasion of the human psyche is to juggle flirtations with both existentialism and nihilism, and post COVID-19 art will undoubtedly exhibit this polarity.
The allure of the latter is overpowering when we notice our governments and power structures are grounded in little more than arrogance, feigned finesse and a disregard for values.
Perhaps future expressions will enlighten us to be shrewd in our perception of ourselves and others.
Conclusion from editor:
It’s uncomfortable and embarrassing to admit that aspects of our thinking are inherently racist.
Many of us blindly reassure ourselves that we aren’t racist, when in fact we are subconsciously perpetuating systems that further oppress BIPOC and ourselves.
It is our responsibility (especially those who are white) to take a look in the mirror and address how our politics, our language and our history affect our perception of BIPOC.
To become aware of our submission via news and media, the education system, and history books. Having our self-sustainability forcibly stripped from us time and time again, having our narrative hijacked and the opinions of the privileged and powerful being presented as reality.
It’s now time to reimagine a new world with the guiding hands of those who have been voiceless for so long. Space needs to be made to support those have previously been pushed out and trampled upon for generations.
In order for our thinking to evolve, we need to put our bodies on the line to help dismantle the structures keeping white supremacy alive.
Art is a tool that can help us materialise the abstract. It can garner more support for our growing movement.
Expelling our rage, pain, joy, and humanness through art will help us to communicate our inherited generational trauma, instill empathy in others and hopefully, heal.
We absolutely must change our mentality, and deconstruct the governmental and economic barriers holding us hostage, as lives are at stake and the oppression can’t be ignored nor rebranded any longer.