Artists give voice to protests
The revolution won’t just be televised — it will be painted, sculpted, danced and written. And when it is, the reverberations will be global.
Those aren’t the musings of some pie-in-the-sky dreamer of the “why can’t we all just get along” type. It’s documentable fact, says the CBC series Interrupt
This Program, which examines underground arts scenes around the world itching to be catalysts for political change.
Adding import to agency, creators Frank Fiorito and Nabil Mehchi say what happens in Warsaw, for example, likely won’t stay in Warsaw.
“We went to Warsaw, where there’s a rise in right-wing extremism,” Mehchi says. “In Warsaw, they’re saying that if you want to see what America is going to look like in a few years, just look at what’s going on in Poland right now.”
For example, the annual Independence Day demonstration in Warsaw, run by far-right nationalist groups, drew an estimated crowd of 75,000 people last year, up 5,000 from the year before. The Warsaw episode of Interrupt
This Program in turn features a popular singer who has been blacklisted by the government. Her songs are banned from the radio, and her presence is roundly unwelcome at any concert or festival sponsored by authorities.
“You realize that this new populist government is totally changing the country,” Fiorito says. “The press is muzzled, and artists who criticize the government are boycotted on the radio. And there’s a big rise in anti-Semitism, which is extremely surprising. The voices of dissent right now in Poland are the artists because the press is muzzled.”
The series adds to the dialogue by featuring a Canadian artist living in the city in each episode, and the means of protest prove varied and resourceful.
“Everywhere we go, we discover new forms of art that we didn’t see before. In the Beirut episode in the first season we had a man doing belly dancing, which is unheard of because it’s usually women who do it. Being gay, he thought it was one way of confronting a society that’s very homophobic, very conservative and religious,” says Mehchi.
“We discovered mural artists, dancers, poetry done in different ways. In past seasons we travelled in Eastern European countries, like Ukraine and Russia, where there was a lot of performance art in the street, people using their bodies to protest or put the word out, because they didn’t have a lot of resources.”
Also this season the series travels to Mexico City, where femicide — the slaying of women and girls — is part of a national crisis. Last month, about 100 km away in the state of Puebla, a university student was murdered after she used a ride-hailing service, prompting another round of street protests.
“Seven women get killed every day in Mexico, the country, just for being a woman. And in Mexico City we filmed with some artists that are attacking that issue,” Fiorito says.
Closer to home — in geography if not subject — is Chicago. In step with Fiorito and Mehchi’s mandate this season to focus on struggles that aren’t just defined by outright war or natural disasters, the Chicago episode highlights a different kind of conflict zone.
“After the election of Donald Trump, we knew we wanted to go to the States. We wanted to resonate beyond the new Trump administration, and we found a city that’s almost like the heart of what’s going on in the resistance movement and activism in the States right now, speaking against racial injustice, the lack of resources, the high amount of guns and gun violence,” Mehchi says.
Gun homicides in the city rose by 61 per cent between 2015 and 2016, and so far this year there’ve been 503 gun homicides in a population of just over 2.7 million.
“You feel that there are artists who are trying to make art as accessible as possible. Artists are going out into the streets, they’re putting it out there. They don’t want to be exhibiting in galleries or trying to work in an isolated bubble,” he says, noting that social media brings an unprecedented immediacy and reach.
“They’re bringing the art to the people. It’s the democratization of art, basically.”