5 Examples of Art as Activism

Each year at Lightning in a Bottle we have an array of art from murals to sculptures along with a variety of psychedelic shade structures to splash color across the landscape. Most of the artists participating draw inspiration from all sorts of places and more often than not, they have a reason for pouring out their creativity for us all to see. The inspiration that propels them to transmute ideas into art is sometimes difficult to observe but it’s almost always a window into who the artist is and, perhaps more interestingly, what they believe.

In this time of uncertainty it’s the artists that equip the everyday citizen with tools to imagine something better. It’s also the artists that can ask the tough questions and suggest possible answers, which gives meaning to their art. Sometimes art can be the source of controversy within a community. Whether protest or satire, a spoonful of art helps the activism go down.

Here are five unique and inspiring examples of art as activism with video!

Calder Greenwood

Medium: Cardboard

If you’ve seen his larger-than-life animal sculptures around Los Angeles you’ll know Calder Greenwood has an affinity for the environment, but what you might not know is that the majority of his projects are a sort of paper-mache, all comprised of second-hand cardboard and other recycled materials. Through his work he seeks to set a green example for other artists, while inspiring Angelenos to notice the forces of nature pushing through the cracks in the sidewalk. With his anonymous partner, who goes by the moniker Wild Life, Greenwood has seeded sculptures in several corners around Los Angeles with a simple hope to get passersby to notice the everpresent influence of nature in the things they see everyday. In this video you’ll see his work used in a the movie Swiss Army man.

Doron Gazit

Medium: Balloons

Probably best known for inventing what the popular animated show Family Guy called “the wacky-waving-inflatable arm-flailing tubeman”, the signature wind sculptures of Doron Gazit are somewhere in between a lazypak and a waterslide. From Egypt to Hollywood and the Dead Sea to the Bay, Gazit has been all over as a celebrated creative and a leader of the arts. He’s been bringing his sculptures to Burning Man for years and even has the distinction of being probably the only balloon artist (of his caliber) to bring his art to a Superbowl (2007), the Olympics (1996) and the White House. In addition to drawing attention to ecosystems abroad and at home, Gazit seeks to capture the very spirit of nature.

Jana Cruder

Medium: Plastics

Those in the know about Jana Cruder and her colleague, Matthew LaPenta, will tell you the eco-themed art they create really makes waves. In fact, the World Art Vision for Environmental Sustainability (W.A.V.E.S.) features two colossal forms of the most commonly tossed non-recyclables in our culture – the plastic water bottle and the Starbucks-style cup. The tragedy of these plastics is that they all eventually find their way to the ocean, where they remain ostensibly forever. To drive this point home, Cruder and LaPenta toured “Natural Plasticity” around the city, showcasing it at different destinations until eventually presenting it in Venice Beach.  

Joshua “Ginger” Monroe

Medium: Sculpture

When the Anarchist Art Collective known as Indecline wants to setup an installation you can bet it’ll come jampacked with socio-political commentary that will be as concerning as it is hilarious. So when it came time to do a piece about the most ugly politician of our time, they brought in the creative muscle of Joshua “Ginger” Monroe. In their renegade collaboration, The Emperor has No Balls, a naked Donald Trump towers over pedestrians in high traffic destinations around the country. Along with his trademark combover haircut and signature scowl of entitlement, the lifelike effigy sports vericose vein riddled skin, a tiny phallus and (of course) no balls. Suffice it to say, people gathered to gawk and laugh while law enforcement scrambled to take the statues down. With meticulous planning the installations simultaneously appeared in Seattle, San Francisco, Cleveland, New York and Los Angeles which sparked a larger conversation about the presidential candidate across the country. The New York Parks Department even tweeted that they were “against illegal erections, no matter how small”.


Medium: Paint

There are few names with the activists clout quite like the mysterious muralist, Banksy. From Los Angeles to the West Bank and just about everywhere in between, Banksy has been an icon of protest in paint for the better part of two decades and his satirical epigrams and commitment to anonymity make him a polarizing figure outside the artist community. Through his work he discusses the role of authority and discent, while shedding some light on the imbalances found in Western culture. His famous piece of a rioter whose maltov cocktail is swapped for a bouquet of flowers encourages those who fight to do it for love. Using the popular art from Les Miserables, Banksy retells the tragedy of the story by placing a can of wafting tear gas nearby. In a piece on immigration, a wandering Steve Jobs is seen with a bag of personal belongings and an early model Apple I, the first apple computer, in his arms.

Featured Photo Credit: Jacob Avanzato