Accidental Critic: Protest Art, Alive and Well


Like hundreds of thousands of other people across the United States, I spent part of Saturday at one of the many #MarchForOurLives gun control rallies held across the United States. I was both moved and awed by the power and poise of our nation’s youth. I also was struck by the extent to which the arts are contributing to and empowering this movement of, by and for young people.

Protest and political art have a long history, both in the United States and elsewhere. Almost anyone able to read this should remember Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster that became synonymous with Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign and now resides at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam War inspired countless works of protest by artists across the U.S. So did the AIDS epidemic beginning in the 1980s. Picasso’s “Guernica,” painted in 1937, toured in an exhibition that raised funds for Spanish Civil War relief. Name any major political movement, and you’re almost guaranteed to find artworks inspired by and contributing to it.

So it should come as no surprise that artists and the arts were represented at Saturday’s rallies. Nonetheless, I found it heartening to see a new generation being both moved by artists and creating art to express and drive its politics.

At the Chicago rally, I saw art ranging from puppetry to spoken word, song, and dance. Though I didn’t see puppets on stage, the official program included vocal music, interpretive dance, and spoken-word poetry. Among the many speakers who told their own personal stories of gun violence in Chicago, high-schooler Jalen Kobayashi brought me nearly to tears with one line from his poem “The Zoo”: “To see 17 in this city is such a blessing.” Here’s his performance:

Then there are these four young women who make up the poetry team—yes, team—at Hinsdale South High School in Chicago’s southwest suburbs, far from the inner-city neighborhood where they performed this piece live at the rally:

Away from the stage, there was a small marching band, hundreds of hand-made signs carried by everyone from grandparents to small children on their parents’ shoulders, angels on stilts, and the giant puppets of Mike Pence and the Grim Reaper shown above.

Protest art is alive and well, and is being put to use by a new generation entering into our political discourse. I’m greatly comforted by this, and I can’t wait to see what else this generation of politically aware youth will create.

A Look at Chicago’s March for Our Lives (YouTube, Newsy)

The Kids Are Alright…Today: More from Kim Kishbaugh about Chicago’s March for Our Lives

Kim Kishbaugh is no kind of artist at all, but a lover of art in many different forms. She travels through life with an open mind and open eyes in search of magic, and sometimes finds it. She is Escape Into Life‘s social media editor and a long-time journalist with an unsettling history of seeing the companies she works for go out of business. She blogs occasionally at kkish.net.