*Extended Deadline* Activist/Aesthetics: one day hybrid conference

deadline for submissions: 
May 5, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
University of Cambridge



The activist/aesthetics reading group invites paper proposals for a one-day hybrid conference to take place on June 2, 2023 in Cambridge, England. 

In his “Political Artist Manifesto”, artist and Black Panther Emory Douglas issues a call to create art that “Recognizes the Oppression of Others” and “Challenges the Colonization of the Imagination”. Douglas’s vision is for an art practice that is aware of both its instrumental power and its aesthetic dimensions. It is one among hundreds of global efforts that trouble, occupy, and thrive between the lines that separate art object and protest tool, aesthetic intervention and activist material. From the radical theatre of the Jana Natya Manch (India) and Augusto Boal (Brazil) to the docu-poetics of Muriel Rukeyser (U.S.A) and the posters of the Medu Art Ensemble (Botswana), the 20th and 21st centuries have been witness to countless visionary interventions that deploy the aesthetic in service of the political. 

This conference will bring together scholars, artists, practitioners and activists to critically reflect on the aesthetic dimensions of political action. Committedly interdisciplinary in its scope, it will address topics including political discourse through literary, visual, and material production, networks of information and resistance, and modes of archiving and documentation. With a particular attention to the material, the conference will attend to a range of forms which emerge from people’s movements (including, for instance, graffiti, pamphlets, posters, photographs, performance, poetry, and textiles. We are interested in both analogue and digital productions from the 20th and 21st centuries, and, in particular, decolonial approaches and work from the Global South. We invite participation from scholar-activists in the allied disciplines of art history, media studies, history, literary studies, languages, and area studies (to name just a few).Participants are encouraged to both critically engage with histories of activist expression and to present their own scholarly/artistic practice. Suggested paper topics include but are not limited to:

  • Creative, visual, or performative accounts of the material cultures of protest: this may include digital or analogue forms like poetry, screen media, textiles, theatre, song, or posters.  
  • Ephemera and questions of persistence
  • Approaches to documenting, archiving and/or preserving activist literature, performance, and visual culture.
  • Censorship, state control, and aesthetic responses
  • Homage, borrowing, and networks of material solidarity
  • Questions of authorship/ownership within activist art
  • Resources, capital, and artistic production within people’s movements
  • Propaganda, co-option, and questions of artistic autonomy
  • Activist art and the art market
  • Questions of impact and instrumentalisation
  • Audience and address in activist art 

Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to activistaesthetics2023@gmail.com by Friday 5th May, including a brief author bio and indicating whether you will participate online or in person. We look forward to hearing from you!