“All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics,” the playwright August Wilson once said, which is why, on any given day in downtown Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street protestors can be witnessed huddling around guitarists or poets as they articulate the grievances of the crowd through song and verse. Some are obscure and others, such as former Rage Against The Machine Guitarist Tom Morello, are not. He performed a small acoustic set Thursday, which turned into a large scrum as passersby and curious onlookers got wind of the rockstar’s presence.
And of course there are the visual artists, best represented at No Comment, an exhibit in the old JP Morgan building at 23 Wall Street displaying the work of artists from around the globe who have been inspired be recent events. Artist Wolf Geyr flew over from Berlin to participate in the show. “People want to express themselves,” he said. “Some do it by going to a park and waving signs …. I make art.”
While many artists are using art to protest politics, others are using politics to protest art. Chana Rothman, a songwriter living in Philadelphia has seen many of her contemporaries become involved in the protests. “A lot of my friends who are artists joined the protests because a lot of art has been corporatized, and it has shut off the ability for a lot of artists to share their work.” Rothman has herself penned a soon-to-be-released song titled “Wall Street, Main Street.”
Anna Harrah, who co-curated No Comment, is doing both. Having lost her art-gallery job due to the recession, the 25-year-old has joined the movement to protest Wall Street’s corrosive effects on the economy. She is also using her curatorial skills to circumvent an art world she perceives as having become increasingly exclusive due to corporate wealth. She says, “The hierarchical structure of the art world has pushed a lot of artists to the margins of the art world.”
The protests have seen their fair share of celebrity artists stop by to see what all the hubbub is about, and to show their support, too. Susan Sarandon, Mike Myers, and Talib Kweli are to name but a few who have been by Zuccotti Park. Many people, however, have dismissed their presence as antithetical to the movement’s egalitarian aims. One recent afternoon Kanye West and Russell Simmons showed up, much to the chagrin of many who felt their embrace of consumerism and their wealth ran contrary to the demands of the protestors.
The collision of art and politics is everywhere apparent in the Occupy Wall Street scene. Geyr echoed the sentiment of many artists becoming involved: “This is something that is rare for me. I’m a creative guy, not a political guy, or a business guy, but at some point it became clear that there’s no way to get around this issue anymore.”