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Humorous Approaches to Art and Activism in Conflict


Dr. Sruti Bala & Dr. Veronika Zangl

Members of the research group

Dr. Veronika Zangl, Dr. Sruti Bala, Florian Göttke

Description of the research programme of the research group

The research group addresses the intersection of art and activism by investigating humorous approaches to intervening in socio-political conflict situations. Most research related to the arts in conflict zones tends to emphasise the therapeutic, 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 project seeks to discuss the more neglected, ‘non-serious’ aesthetic strategies, such as those employing ironic, grotesque, absurd and humorous 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 humour as an artistic strategy is likewise grounded in transgressing and provoking particular memory structures. To what extent have humorous approaches to art and activism in conflict 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?

The project consists of three main strands.

The first strand concerns the limits and possibilities of humorous approaches in situations of traumatic, violent conflict. How do humorous 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 humorous 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 humorous 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 humorous interventions?

Societal relevance

The analysis of contemporary humorous 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 humorous strategies of art and activism around the world, especially when the cultural specificity of humour and its reception has been widely acknowledged. 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.


  • 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.


  • 2014: Lecture and discussion series “Art and Activism” co-organised with NICA, ACGS, Ervaar Daar Hier Theater and Dept. of Theatre Studies, UvA
  • January 2014: Presentation by V. Zangl and S. Bala at Symposium “Global Activism”, ZKM Karlsruhe
  • October 2013: Panel Discussion “Humour and Cultural Differences”, Stichting de Visiefabriek, Hogeschool van Amsterdam
  • September 2013: Exploratory workshop organised in NIAS (Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies) with 15 invited international scholars and activists.
  • September 2013: Public discussion with Dr. Begüm Özden Firat and Dr. Hilary Ramsden, Spui 25 on “Humorous Approaches to Art and Activism in Conflict: Gezi Spirit and Rebel Clown Army”
  • 10 March 2014: Activist Art in/and the Museum with Annie Fletcher (Curator, van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven) and Annette Krauss (artist, Arnhem)  - excursion and masterclass
  • 24 April 2014, 16-18hrs.: Turkish and Kurdish post-migrant theatre and activism Dr. Pieter Verstraete (Postdoctoral fellow, Bilgi University, Istanbul) in conversation with Celil Toksöz (Theater RAST, Amsterdam)
  • 02 June 2014, 16-18hrs. Feminism, Activism, Humour? Laia Ribera Americana Canenguez (Actress and Director, Teatro Siluetas, Guatemala and Teadro del Azoro, El Salvador) in conversation with Mikki Stelder (PhD candidate, ASCA/UvA) Moderated discussion in co-operation with Ervaar Daar Hier Theater
  • November 2014, 16-18hrs. Paranormal Strategies in Art and Activism. Lecture performance by Dr. Sibylle Peters (Director, Research Programme Assemblies and Participation, University of Hamburg)

This group belongs to the following constellations: