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Propaganda Art – It’s time we had a Proper Gander

“Propaganda is as powerful as heroin; it surreptitiously dissolves all capacity to think”.
GIL COURTEMANCHE, A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

We are living in a mist and maze of misinformation and are starting to lose sight of what is true. If we assume the idea that propaganda is biased. That it sells you a lie. Then propaganda is everywhere.

In this technological, data-driven world we live in, it is impossible to avoid. We are constantly bombarded with carefully targeted ‘fake news’ through our tv, emails and social media channels.

Actor Sacha Baron Cohen recently gave an honest and scathing speech on the rise of fake news within these channels:

Sacha Baron Cohen addresses his concerns over social media channels

Billions is being spent on brainwashing us, in the hope of changing our opinions and thoughts… and for many, sadly, it works.

But this is nothing new.

The historical propaganda machine

Throughout history, propaganda has been used as a powerful tool to coerce the masses. To influence and ultimately control us. The Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans all used it. Religious groups, political parties, media outlets including major news channels and newspapers all have their own opinion, bias and agenda.

In more recent years we’ve seen it with the Iraq war, with the Trump/Clinton presidential race, with Brexit and now with the upcoming UK elections.

Why are we talking about this?

As a creative hub you might be wondering why this topic is relevant to us?

Well there has always been propaganda art. Artists have used their talents to persuade and comment on issues that affect us all, pointing out the absurdities or siding with a particular opinion.

Today we thought we’d look at some talented artists whose work discusses their opinions.

First up is one of our favourites…

Shepard Fairey

Fairey’s work is striking. He rose to fame with his subversive and underground ‘Obey’ campaign although most will recognise his ‘HOPE’ posters showing support of President Obama.

Shephard Fairey’s famous ‘Hope’ poster in support of Barack Obama

In the video below he talks about being influenced by John Carpenter’s 1988 movie ‘They Live’.

This insightful and yet slightly crazy sci-fi film discusses the idea of how we are manipulated and controlled by everything we see and hear.

Shepard Fairey discusses the sci film ‘They Live’

Fairey, with his Russian revolution style art has become a leading figure in the street art world and uses his work to create strong and powerful messages. Messages that encourage you to stop and question what we are being fed by the mainstream media.


French born JR started his career as a graffiti artist but when, by chance, he found a camera left on the subway a new world opened up.

By combining his skill with a camera with his passion for humanity, JR began exploring what it means to be human in some of the more inhumane places such as Iran, Palestine, and the favelas of Brazil; he gave a voice to the voiceless.

The finished work was then displayed in the world’s largest free art gallery… the streets.

He has become world renowned for tackling tough issues such as the middle eastern conflicts and more recently produced work commenting on ‘Trump’s Wall’. This was created using an image of a Mexican child peering over the Mexico/US border wall.

JR’s Mexican child peering over the Mexican/US border wall

In an interview with The New Yorker, JR explained how the mother of the child, featured in the piece, hoped it would change people’s attitudes…

“I did a rendering in my studio in Paris, and then we went back to see the mother again. She approved it. She said, ‘I hope this will help people see us differently than what they hear in the media, that they will stop taking us like criminals or rapists.’ I could feel—wow. It was very strong from her. She told me, ‘I hope in that image they won’t only see my kid. They will see us all.’

Rael San Fratello

In July this year, three pink seesaws magically appeared at the Mexican/US border. This ingenious idea cleverly turned the border wall into a fulcrum for the seesaws. The masterminds behind the installation are architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello of Rael San Fratello architect and design studio.

As anti-border campaigners they made their point in a playful and humorous way. The seesaws brought children and adults from both sides of the border together, to interact with one another.

Ronald Rael explained that the action of the seesaw represented the idea that what happens on one side of the wall effects the other.

We love this subtle and yet powerful idea. Sometimes the simplest ones are most certainly the best.

Pablo Picasso

This artist needs no introduction. His paintings sell for millions. He changed the way many artists viewed the world and pioneered the cubist movement… and like the artists in this list, he had something to say.

Picasso’s 1937 painting ‘Guernica’ illustrates the horror of war

One of his most famous paintings ‘Guernica’ discussed the atrocities that occurred during the Spanish Civil War in the town of the same name. Painted in 1937, art critics describe it as one of the most powerful anti-war paintings in history depicting the devastation and horror on innocent lives.

Illma Gore

You may not be familiar with American-Australian Ashley ‘Illma’ Gore, but you might recognise the work below.

In 2016 her painting of Donald Trump went viral. As a result, she began receiving death threats from pro Trump supporters, culminating in physical abuse as one supporter punched her in the face.

Illma Gore’s ‘Trump’ portrait threw her into the spotlight

In an interview with The Guardian, Gore questions why the idea that a small penis infers weakness and a larger one, power.

Donald Trump himself took to threatening her with legal lawsuits and a barrage of abuse via social media channels.

As Illma states in the interview, “Art is supposed to evoke an emotion. Art represents the time we live in”.

UK Street art discusses politics

If you want to get a feeling of people’s disdain towards UK politics, there’s no better place than the streets. Here there are no rules, and the artists cleverly express their views, displaying them for the world to see.

From Brexit to May, to Corbyn and Johnson, no one is safe. People are tired of the lies and simply want their voices to be heard; and the streets have always been the place for the masses to express their views.

Paul Kneen

CreativeFolk artist Paul Kneen’s work predominantly focuses on current social issues. From Rhino horn poaching, the rich/poor divide to anti-war and climate change, Paul has something to say.

In one of his latest pieces he cleverly plays on the word Propaganda.

Propaganda, original signed canvas
Paul Kneen’s piece ‘Propaganda’ cleverly encourages us to take a good look
at what we are told

As Paul explains, “I think there’s something ironic about the word Propaganda. It’s based around the idea of lies and deception and yet sounds rather similar to the phrase proper gander – the idea that we should have a good look. I want to encourage people to form their own opinions, to research claims they read, rather than take things on face value”.

His piece, Propaganda, features the phrase Proper Gander in a newspaper-esque font on a background of ripped newspapers.

Is all art propaganda?

As Illma Gore quite rightly said, “Art should evoke an emotion”. It’s about expressing an opinion and encouraging the viewer to question what they believe or have been told. With the constant bombardment of news, it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate truth from lies.

With so many opposing views and opinions, some believe artists shouldn’t stick their nose in matters they know nothing about. That they should stick to painting ‘pretty’ pictures. Maybe they’re right? After all they’re just artists, not politicians.

Maybe art should just simply be that, art? Or as George Orwell’s 1949 critical essays question, ‘Is all art propaganda’?

Artists such as the ones we’ve discussed, we believe are important. You may not agree with their points of view but hopefully it starts a debate. A debate that needs to happen. A debate, that at the very least, ensures you truly believe in your views for the right reasons.

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