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Art - Activism - Conflict


Dr. Sruti Bala & Dr. Veronika Zangl

Members of the research group

Dr. Veronika Zangl, Dr. Sruti Bala

Description of the research programme of the research group

The research group addresses the intersection of art and activism in socio-political conflict situations. Most research related to the arts in conflict zones tends to emphasise the emancipatory or reconciliatory attributes of art in conflict, paying attention to how art contributes to easing tensions between communities in conflict and overcome trauma. The research group seeks to discuss the more neglected aesthetic expressions of critique, such as those employing ironic, grotesque, absurd and ludic forms of cultural and artistic intervention in conflict settings. Of special interest is the cross-pollination of memory studies and the study of cultural activism. During the last decades various approaches towards memory have been developed based on exploring artistic and cultural practices. However, activism vis-à-vis conflictual situations not only challenges different layers of memory, but also points to the future. We would like to explore to what extent artistic/aesthetic strategies are grounded in and simultaneously transgress and provoke particular memory structures. To what extent have aesthetic expressions of critique become relevant in grasping and responding to the contemporary ‘global’ moment, wherein conflicts can no longer be pigeonholed into regional histories and national memories alone?

Research strands

The first strand concerns the ambivalence of art and activism in conflict. How do artistic strategies, which are often defined as ambivalent and paradoxical, challenge nationalized memories? How do creative forms of activism destabilize existing patterns in understanding divergent perspectives in conflict settings? How do artistic interventions undermine fixed modes of making meaning?

The second strand concerns how artists and activists approach the ‘the opponent’ in a conflict setting. What are the aesthetic strategies of entering their spaces and communicating with the Other, ranging from ridicule and attack to mimicry and mirroring? How are the interventions brought into the public sphere? To what extent are artistic interventions capable of overcoming the victim-perpetrator dichotomy, so deeply rooted in conflict narratives, and evoking possible future memories?

The third strand deals with the differences and commonalities between art and activism in terms of intervening in the ‘real’: what trajectories of the past do artistic activist practices bring forth and question? How do aesthetic approaches intertwine with ‘the real’ in narrating and representing the past? What are the premises of questioning established, ‘sacred’ narratives of the past through aesthetic strategies of intervention?

Societal relevance

The analysis of contemporary artistic and cultural practices, which seek to intervene in zones of conflict, is inextricable from a discussion of their commonalities, outside the framework of national or regional histories. This means questioning the terms of writing the history of cultural heritage, as well as asking how globalisation impacts upon and is formational to these practices. It further means inquiring into the circulation of the aesthetics of critique of art and activism. Further, an appraisal of the politics of memory and of how certain narratives and memorial practices are privileged or layered over others, is an important part of conveying the relevance of artistic activism to a broader public.

During the first phase of the research, the group focused on humorous approaches to art and activism in conflict. This culminated in the following publications and research activities:

  • European Journal of Humour Research: Special Double Issue on Humour in Art and Activism (2015, vol. 2/3), eds. Veronika Zangl and Sruti Bala
  • V. Zangl & S. Bala (2015). 'Editorial: Humour in Art and Activism', European Journal of Humour Research, 3 (2/3), 1-6.
  • V. Zangl & S. Bala (2015). 'Dramaturgies of Humour in the Performance of Protest', European Journal of Humour Research, 3 (2/3), 7-17.
  • S. Bala & V. Zangl (2015). 'Humor's Opponents: Artistic Activism and the Ludic Aesthetic,' In P. Weibel (Ed.), Global activism: art and conflict in the 21st century (pp. 449-454). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Current activities:

Online speaker series Politics and Performance (2021)
co-organised by Elize Mazadiego and Sruti Bala

Translation of Brecht’s learning play ‘Die Ausnahme und die Regel’ based on the recently published German critical edition by Reiner Steinweg (ongoing)

Veronika Zangl: a study of national socialist cabaret in the second world war "Politics of humour in extremis. Cabaret and propaganda in the Netherlands under German occupation" European Journal of Cultural Studies (2021, forthcoming)

This group belongs to the following constellations: