Special Issue: Art and Solidarity

Introduction to the Special Issue 

The articles and interviews contained in this ARTMargins Online Special Issue address a wide range of approaches to artistic solidarity, some motivated explicitly by historical precedents and others by specific conditions of the present. They explore artistic projects, online platforms, curatorial approaches, and activist stances, presenting a diverse array of perspectives on what it can mean to stand with each other, even when we are apart—sharing common strategies and common visions, in search of a common future.

The special issue brings together voices from throughout the artworld to explore the ways artists, cultural workers, and arts institutions are working (or have worked) to practice solidarity at local, translocal, and transnational levels, but also to question its relevance today. What does solidarity mean in the context of—and from a situated position within—today’s neo-liberal environment with its emphasis on deregulation and the weakening of worker solidarity? Is solidarity in crisis, or has it receded fully into the private sphere where charities and non-profit organizations practice what was once considered the responsibility of the government, of unions and similar social formations? Or, has solidarity simply taken on different forms more commensurate with today’s social and political environment? Certainly the urgency of solidarity as a theme for artistic and cultural work has become clearer in recent years, as artists and activists have worked to emphasize the global character of struggles against neo-imperialism and neocolonialism, and to draw global attention to conditions within particular repressive regimes. In the context of former Eastern and Central Europe, Russia’s war in Ukraine has raised the question of solidarity across a wide variety of cultural contexts, but of course this is not the only event that has moved artists to seek new grounds for solidary actions. 

What are the stakes for solidarity in today’s globalized artworld? What legacies of solidarity are most relevant for artists, curators, and art historians working in the era of global neoliberal capitalism? How can artists and art institutions meaningfully create networks of solidarity that reach broad audiences and produce substantive social change? Finally, how can claims of solidarity avoid becoming merely performative gestures, almost immediately forgotten as media attention shifts rapidly across geographies, hampering sustained collective engagement to construct shared architectures of mutual aid? Solidarity suggests not only the unification of different individuals or groups around a shared set of feelings and goals, but also the development of shared support. Cultural workers seeking to instigate conditions of solidarity, or to act in solidarity, must not only raise awareness—they must also generate and maintain networks of aid that bridge national borders and sociocultural differences. 

More and more historical and curatorial projects are also working to recover past legacies of solidarity, often focusing on transnational episodes from the Cold War, such as the 1955 Afro-Asian summit in Bandung, Indonesia; the 1978 Art Exhibition for Palestine held in Beirut,(Kristine Khouri and Rasha Salti, eds., Past Disquiet: Artists, International Solidarity, and Museums in Exile (Warsaw: Muzeum Sztuki Nowoczesnej  2018), a catalog accompanying the research and exhibition project that first began in 2015.) Chinese support for Black activists in the United States,(Ruodi Duan, “Solidarity in Three Acts: Narrating US Black Freedom Movements in China, 1961-66,” Modern Asian Studies vol. 53, no. 5 (2019), pp. 1351-1380.) or Yugoslavia’s exhibition cultures as part of the Non-Aligned Movement.(Bojana Piškur, “Solidarity in Arts and Culture. Some cases from the Non-Aligned Movement,” L’internationale Online, September 30, 2016, https://www.internationaleonline.org/research/alter_institutionality/78_solidarity_in_arts_and_culture_some_cases_from_the_non_aligned_movement.) Some of these studies have been regionally focused (such as a recent volume on art and culture Latin America).(Jessica Stites Mor and Maria del Carmen Suescun Pozas, eds., The Art of Solidarity: Visual and Performative Politics in Cold War Latin America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018).) Gender has, for some time, also been studied as lens for understandings solidarity between specific local contexts during the Cold War.(For example, see Kristen Ghodsee, Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women’s Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018), and the recent special issue Celia Donert, ed., “Women’s Rights and Global Socialism: Gendering Socialist Internationalism during the Cold War,” International Review of Social History no. 67 (2022).) While investigations of solidarity often offer examples from the past—and potential grounds for anti-imperial and anti-capitalist resistance in the present—they also offer cautionary tales. Many solidarity projects (such as citizens in Eastern Bloc countries attempting to promote solidarity with indigenous peoples in the United States, or Yugoslavia’s engagement with race as part of the Non-Aligned Movement) also revealed exoticizing attitudes, Eurocentrism, and inauthentic performativity on the part of those declaring their solidarity. Faced with a complex legacy that is still unfolding, it is no surprise that solidarity only continues to grow as an area of artistic and scholarly investigation (succinctly reflected by the recent publication of the Art and Solidarity Reader, published by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway).(Katya García-Antón, ed., Art and Solidarity Reader: Radical Actions, Politics and Friendships (OCA/Valiz, 2022).)

The articles in this issue will be released over the next several weeks. You can find links to these articles below:

ARTMargins Online Editorial Collective
Amy Bryzgel, Iva Glisic, Raino Isto, Zsuzsa László, Susan Snodgrass, Sven Spieker.