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Arts Blog

State Crime, Human Rights and the Arts
by Phillida Cheetham, Emily Baxter and Charlie Woodward

The state crime in the arts blog deals with the power of the arts to act as a part of the critical apparatus of civil society. It seeks to demonstrate the myriad creative responses to state crime that we find in the visual arts, performance, fiction, poetry and related disciplines. The aim of the blog is to provide a showcase of the work that is currently being made at the intersection of art, reportage, and political activism, and to publicise the crucial support structures that allow that work to happen.

The ability of artists to communicate complex situations in engaging and original ways, embedding dissent, make artists a prime social group within which to look for whistleblowers, activists and other critics of the relationship between state and big business. Artists whose work engages with state crime often demonstrate enviable communication skills, allowing their work to incite public debate, raise awareness and critique the obfuscations and assumptions that often accompany large-scale criminal activities. Whether working at the level of individual experience or exploring abstract structural issues, artists whose work engages with state crime provide alternative ways of conceiving of and dealing with complex socio-political issues.

Artists engage with state crimes in a range of media and from a range of different standpoints. Some artists see their role as similar to that of a journalist, dealing in straight representation and documentation of a particular political situation. Other artists are more oblique. Artists such as Heath Bunting, Wafaa Bilal and Rabih Mroue draw out the ethical and legal ramifications of particular situations by embedding themselves with in them, often expressing themselves through performance interventions, installations and research led-work.

Web Articles

08 Oct 2012

The Poetry of Richard McKane, Part 2

To update an earlier post, Richard McKane sent a cycle of poems relating to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan: LAMENT FOR UZBEKISTAN So, Presidents Bush and Karimov, you believe the base line on Uzbekistan is the US Military Base and how it opens up Afghanistan: but below that base line is underground resistance in your... Read more »
08 Oct 2012

Political Art in Sri Lanka

While in Sri Lanka last February, I felt very fortunate that the timing of my visit coincided with the second annual Colombo Art Biennale (CAB). As a student immersed in analysis of state discourse and ethnic conflict on the island, and as someone with a keen interest in political and contemporary art, the discovery of... Read more »
18 Oct 2012

Art and the Wounds of the Argentine Dirty War: Deepening Resistance by Documenting Horror and Preserving Memory

Art and the Wounds of the Argentine Dirty War:  Deepening Resistance by Documenting Horror and Preserving Memory.[1] By declaring that it would be barbaric to write poetry after Auschwitz,[2] German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno gave rise to a fundamental question: ‘Is inhumanity unrepresentable?’ According to Horacio González, this ‘two–fold negation’ is inconvenient for the domain... Read more »
16 Jan 2013

The Photography of Don McCullin

McCullin (2013)
Don McCullin (now 77 years old) is the UK’s most celebrated war photographer. The Bafta-nominated documentary, McCullin (2013), is a reflection on his work. The journalistic culture in which McCullin cut his teeth is presented in the film as one of fiercely committed, editorially self-governing reporters, among whom McCullin grew to be a keenly humane... Read more »
21 Apr 2013

Hungary’s Political Theatre: New Government Targets Artists

It is hard to imagine Nick Hytner getting the push from the National Theatre for political reasons. More than anything else theatre just doesn’t seem to have much political clout in the UK. Politicians don’t see theatre directors as a threat to their authority. Most of them are a non-entity as far as they are... Read more »
01 Mar 2013

Joy is Coming: Advertising, TV and an end to dictatorship in Chile

In 1988, after nearly 17 years of a brutal military dictatorship that killed over three thousand and arrested or exiled tens of thousands more, Chile’s military regime, led by General Augusto Pinochet, called a referendum. It gave the nation the choice between another eight years of Pinochet or the chance for a democratically elected leader.... Read more »
30 May 2013

State Crime in UK hip-hop: a soundtrack to the struggle

“This track is not an attack upon the American people.  It is an attack upon the system in which they live.  Since 1945 the United States has attempted to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments.  In the process the US has caused the end of life for several million people; and condemned many millions more... Read more »
29 Jun 2013

Propaganda: Power & Persuasion At The British Library (Review)

Propaganda: Power and Persuasion
The British Library’s summer exhibition purports to focus on the development and use of propaganda in all its insidious forms. From the outset, it is evident that the curators have laudably adopted a broad definition of propaganda embracing efforts to influence the body politic for good or ill. Indeed one of the quotations that greets... Read more »
03 Aug 2013

My Perspective: Documentary-maker, Alexander Papathanasiou, on Greece’s democratic crisis

(From left to right: Ilias Spyrakis and Kostas Kazakos) The Greek crisis, for many months, was the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger EU and global crisis. For the last three years, since May of 2010, the Greek state has received financial injections, loans broadly known as the ‘memorandums’, from the European Central Bank (E.C.B.), the... Read more »
03 Aug 2013

The Facts in the Ground: Archaeological resistance during Occupy Gezi

(Placard in the photo reads: ‘The Neolithic Revolution was the first revolution but it won’t be the last!’) In Turkey, there appears to be a policy of illegal non-employment of archaeologists in order to ensure the non-recovery and non-documentation of politically-unacceptable cultural heritage.  That is to say that the state seems to violate its own law,... Read more »
09 Aug 2013

Female Poetic Resistance and the Afghan Landay [Review]

I am the Beggar of the World
  You sold me to an old man, father. May God destroy your home, I was your daughter.   This traditional Afghan folk poem was often recited by the teenage poet Rahila Muska at a women’s literary group in Kabul. On a spring day in 2010, Rahila set herself on fire. She had just been... Read more »
16 Dec 2013

Art of the Holocaust: Creativity in Extremis

Public lecture review by Amy Corcoran Even through the most appalling situations the creative spirit finds a place, and those who engage in the creative process find a voice.  There are around 30,000 surviving works of art created by victims of the Holocaust, at the time they were victims.  An extraordinary feat indeed, but only a... Read more »
22 Jan 2014

Documenting Youth Detention in the USA

By Amy Corcoran  Young People, Detained A staggering 2.2 million people are behind bars in America, over 60,000 of these juveniles, making the USA the world leader of youth detention: over half a million young people go through detention centres in the USA annually.   The USA falls far short of international recommendations of 12 years... Read more »
29 Jan 2014

We Can Win

By Amy Corcoran We Can Win Earlier this Month, Rich Mix, London, hosted the launch of ‘We Can Win: Stories from 50 years of struggle’ – ten short film interviews documenting fifty years of struggle in the UK.  Shown chronologically in three sets the interviewers, all key organisers in their particular fights, describe campaigns for... Read more »
08 Sep 2014

Interrogating the Corporate Machine

‘I won’t believe it until I see it on TV.’[1] On 4 December 2004, to mark the 20 year anniversary of the Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, a man posing as a public spokesman for Dow Chemical appeared on BBC World and announced that Dow would accept complete financial (and ethical) responsibility for... Read more »
29 Sep 2014

Waiting in Line Against the State: The Orange Alternative

One secret policeman asks another: ‘So, what do you think of the government’? His colleague looks around before replying, ‘The same as you, Comrade’. Whereupon Policeman No.1 declares, ‘In that case, it is my duty to arrest you’.[1]  - Old Soviet joke On 7 October 1987, in Warsaw, Poland, on the day traditionally used to... Read more »
26 Sep 2014

The ‘Cop in your Head’ or the Clown in the Street: Antanas Mockus and the Theatre of Civic Culture

 ‘When there is nothing to be done… it’s time to bring out the clowns.’[1] Paul Bromberg, Director Institute of Culture, Bogota, in conversation with Antanas Mockus   When Antanas Mockus was elected Mayor of Bogotá in 1995, he inherited a city which was statistically the most dangerous in Latin America.[2] The UN Office of Drugs... Read more »
25 Jun 2012

Poetry and Politics: The Poetry of Richard McKane and the Poetry of the Taliban

Poetry lends itself uniquely to the work of promoting human rights.  The combination of lyric writing, imagery, and the easily missed details of life in poetry can be an enlightening and memorable tool for raising awareness.  It allows for the expression of anger, pain, and injustice in a way that seeks to reach others across... Read more »
19 Apr 2012


by Charlie Woodward CMAP (click to visit the CMAP site) uses cinema as a medium for violated communities to share their experiences in order to empower them in the pursuit of justice. Its films provide an essential and poignant insight into the harsh reality of the situation for the waterfront community of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Countering... Read more »
14 May 2012

Documentary Photography and Images as Resistance Blog

Documentary photography and photojournalism have long been an essential part of uncovering and raising awareness of conflicts and human rights violations.  Documentary photography serves as a fascinating – yet not unproblematic – elision between art and journalism.  Representation is the basis of documentary photography as both its goal and biggest danger; images can drive home... Read more »