The last decade has been one of the most politically divisive in recent memory. The rise of cable television and the twenty-four-hour news cycle in the 1980s, followed by the ubiquitous spread of information (and misinformation) online and through social media in the subsequent decades, has led to a fevered pitch of political rhetoric in recent years. Philosopher and theorist Marshall McLuhan noted that artists are often first responders to shifting political winds, and declared that art acts as an early alarm system to social and psychic dynamics. In Relation to Power: Politically Engaged Works from the Collection reveals some of the ways in which artists address political systems and either comment on, consent to, and in many cases vehemently resist the dynamics of inequitable systems of power found therein.
This exhibition is loosely organized into three thematic groupings, providing a rough framework through which to view artistic strategies of commentary and critique. Image & Ideology demonstrates the unambiguous ways in which imagery often symbolizes or represents political ideas. Text & Subtext includes works that employ language, often paired with images, to further comment on power dynamics. The Body Politic explores the incorporation of the body to confront, resist, and reverse long-standing abusive authority, implicit and explicit bias, and violent, corporeal aggression. In doing so, artists use the body as a site of immense political consequence and a potential agent of change.
Over the last several years and despite greater public scrutiny of inequitable policies, individual liberties remain vulnerable to restrictive and harmful legislation. Artists play a vital role in exposing and confronting these oppressive practices. Including work by artists throughout the globe, In Relation to Power offers a glimpse into artistic gestures that encourage reflection on aspects of power, the nature of authority and authoritarian practices, and the ongoing struggle for political agency.