What I admire about Thursday’s public march led by Anish Kapoor and Ai Weiwei eight miles across London is its resourcefulness and simplicity in its show of solidarity for the refugee crisis. Art in its usual form of protest is traditionally highly symbolic (think Guernica), provocative (that chap nailing his genitalia to Red Square), or slyly sardonic (any cartoon jibes to be found from Gilray to today’s Private Eye).
This is not a protest march a la the student fees procession, or even the demonstration against the Iraq war which saw millions voice their protest with their feet on the streets of London; for though these methods are admirable in mobilising the sheer number of people who may never otherwise have taken to the roads, in terms of influencing government policy they achieved, sadly, diddly squat. Instead, it is a simple walk which, while also mobilising public support for the cause, recreates the experiences of hundreds of thousands of displaced families walking across the globe to escape their current predicament. What is emphasised is the fact that they are simply going from A to B, with minimum fuss or ulterior political motive.
The inclusion of Kapoor and Ai Weiwei brings further significance: previously following the Chinese government’s banning of the video parody of Gangnam Style by Ai Weiwei, itself a protest for freedom of speech, Kapoor had gathered figures in the art world to produce his own Gangnam Style video with the purpose of freeing Ai Weiwei. One helped the other, now together they are helping more people: it is a snowballing effort. The Royal Academy was the point from which the pair set off on Thursday morning, where Ai Weiwei is currently enjoying a major retrospective having finally been granted his freedom of movement with the return of his passport from Chinese officials. The exhibition is a relief-laden celebration of freedom of movement and speech over oppression, and his ability to walk freely in London shows an act which represents the same desire for freedom from oppression for those currently attempting to cross borders. At the end, the two told Artlyst how tired but invigorated they were from the distance. This is nothing compared to the ground covered by the refugees.
Words: Artbytch, firstname.lastname@example.org / photo: P A Black © 2015