Dubbed the “first TikTok war”, the current battle raging in Ukraine against Vladimir Putin’s reckless imperialism is taking advantage of user outrage. Both US president Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — himself an avid so- cial media user — have addressed TikTokers directly, calling on them to protest to help end the war.
And even as opposition parties lampoon the efforts as frivolous, and media researchers decry the app’s design as too susceptible to the spread of misinformation, there is no doubt that the short-video platform resonates outside traditional journalism and typical war coverage. Its edge is using a language and aesthetic that appeals to a generation that want their voices to be heard by people their age who dress and dance like they do.
As British art critic John Bergen so poignantly said, “Protest and anger practically always derives from hope, and the shouting out against injustice is always in the hope of those injustices being somewhat corrected and a little more justice established.”
And that’s just what we all want – TikTokers, mag- azine subscribers, TV addicts, artists, designers, and architects alike.
In this issue we side with those creatives whose work bites deep, with those who use their craft to protest, and specifically with those who reach out to the public directly as collaborators in that fight against iniquity.
If protest is understood to mean a publicly expressed opinion designed to draw attention to a cause with the goal of influencing people and instigating change, then culture does and always has played a big role.
Since the invention of the printing press, artists have been deconstructing reality and drawing their audience’s attention to wrongs. And still now, hundreds of years later, it's often at the in- tersection of protest, art, and journalism where the most important and bigger stories lie.
Post-colonial narratives, illegal acts, ecological activism, cultural conservation, and freedom of movement all lie at the core of the work covered in these pages. Many of the artists and designers included are not just reflecting on these topics but are themselves immersed in and experiencing them. We have also tried to extend the impact of cultural protest to emphasise those artists and designers who go beyond mere representation and dare to discuss real solutions.
Art has always been politically charged and well able to inspire change. By pushing that potential and celebrating a diverse range of voices, bodies and perspectives, that function can only be enhanced.
And even if the medium of protest expands in the age of social media, it should be recognised that rough skills as well as cheap, accessible materials have always been at the core of protest art — posters then, memes now, photography then, NFTs now.
The kernel usually starts emotional and even angry before the narrative cleans up and moves across the spectrum into polite society where eventually even galleries and collectors become enthusiastic.
That’s all great, but let’s also always pay tribute to where the agitation started in the first place.