The Gulf Oil Spill and the Art of Protest

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Protest art has a long, distinguished and incendiary history. Think Pablo Picasso, with his politically charged masterpiece Guernica inspired by the Spanish Civil War, or Noman Carlberg’s work during Vietnam. And the recent BP oil spill – with its devastating effects on the environment, and local wildlife, not to mention the livelihoods of those living along the coastline – has put protest art firmly back in the spotlight.

Not long ago, we discussed the impact that the images of the oil spill had on the internet news cycle. But as well as merely reporting, artists have seized the opportunity to rail against BP, and those corporations which exploit natural resources, as well as the response of the Government. Others have made their protests in more subtle, but no less powerful ways.


Jane Fulton

Jane Fulton is one such artist. Jane is a photographer who was inspired to make a personal protest about the devastation wrought by the oil spill – her images depict those who live and work by the Gulf of Mexico, covered in oil, reflecting both the literal impact on the wildlife, and as a metaphor for the destroyed lives of the communities living nearby. Explaining her motivation, Jane Fulton emphasises the effect that the spill had on her immediate surroundings, and the worldwide repercussions of exploiting natural resources:

Living on the shores of Lake Michigan, I am acutely aware of the disastrous toll the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has taken on all forms of life, especially as our beaches opened to the 2010 swimming season. This environmental, social and economic catastrophe highlights a much larger problem that has inflicted untold suffering as we exploit the earth’s resources worldwide.


The Gulf of Disaster: Deepwater Horizon

Does protest art lead to long term change?

Put crudely (pun intended) does protest art work? Can images and artwork such as this really stun people into direct action? After all, it’s one thing to laugh at satirical depictions of Tony Hayward, and another to be motivated to act or give money to organizations working to effect change.

We recently discussed how to turn anger against BP and big corporations into positive, worthwhile action – so rather than boycotting BP, making smaller changes to the way we live, which will ultimately lead to a bigger cumulative impact.

We’d be interested to hear your views.

What do you think? Leave a comment!