‘Resist’ at Bozar in Brussels

The Bozar is marking the ‘Summer of Photography’ festival with a fascinating exhibition exploring the photography and art of protest.  Fifty years after May ’68 in Paris the spotlight is on how photographers, photo journalists and artists captured this and other protests and the relevance of protest today.

Christel Tsilibaris co-ordinated the exhibition at Bozar: “The Sixties are centre stage in ‘Resist’.  Not only the events of May ’68 in Paris but protest movements across the globe during this decade.  The exhibition explores how photographers recorded protests and brought them to a wider audience often putting themselves in danger, how artists drew inspiration and portrayed protests and what the legacy of the Sixties protests is for us today."

The exhibition opens with Marcelo Brodsky’s work ‘1968, the Fire of Ideas’.  The Argentinian maps out the various protest movements that came to the fore in different parts of the world.  He uses images from the archives, adds colours and phrases.  It’s an unfinished work that the artist is keen to expand.

Christel Tsilibaris: “Everybody is familiar with the pictures showing the shattering of the Berlin Wall.  Here we include images depicting its construction at the start of the decade. There are pictures of student protests against the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal throughout this decade. Some are being shown for the first time.  Gilles Caron and Bruno Barbey are the French photographers who recorded the May ‘68 protests in France, but also the reaction from De Gaulle loyalists. The photography of Steve Shapiro records Black protests in the United States, the Selma March, pictures of Martin Luther King and the Kennedys”. 

May ’68 also spilled over into Belgium with mass student protests the following year in Leuven, but in 1968 the Bozar itself played a role.  Students occupied the arts centre and author Hugo Claus and artists Panamarenko and Marcel Broodthaers took part in debates staged here. During the Seventies Gideon Mandel was one of the first to portray anti-Apartheid protests in South Africa. The anti-Apartheid protests from the Seventies are contrasted with today’s situation in the US.  In work by Hank Willis Thomas the sporting achievements of black sports men and women are honoured, but the question is also asked: “Has anything changed?”

A form of Apartheid is also brought to life in a spoof documentary filmed by Henri Storck and Hugo Mellaerts.  The film that was never shown in its day, and initially lost, shows a Belgium divided with border checks in the Jubel Park as people leave the “Flemish quarter of Brussels”.

The exhibition also includes rare pictures of the Fall of the Wall in that really divided city as seen from an East German perspective. ‘Handsworth Songs’, a video installation by John Akomfrah homing in on the riots in English cities in the Eighties is also included.

In our own age protests explore new media and new technology.  The work of Wolfgang Tillman lauds the European Union as a safe haven against the rise of nationalism.  Tillman also deployed his talents in a Pro-EU and anti-Brexit campaign.

The Sarayuku people of Ecuador show that there are other ways than protest to achieve your aims.  When the government awarded an oil concession to an Argentinian oil company in their part of the Amazonian rain forest they took the matter to court and won by proving that a valuable biodiversity would be under threat. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict features in the section ‘Speculating on the Future’ with Larissa Sansour’s comic work ‘A Space Exodus’.  Reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001, a Space Odyssey’ she proposes a homeland for the Palestinians on the moon as the only possible answer to this insolvable problem. 

In its panoramic video installation ‘Inverso Mundus’ the Russian collective AES+F portrays a world in which women, children and the poor have taken power.  Interesting too is the work of Artem Loskutov.  Each year a protest is staged in Novosibirsk.  The protest has no clear message, but still unsettles the local authorities, even leading to arrests.

Don’t forget to add your message of protest to the protest wall at the end of the exhibition!

‘Resist’ is curated by Christine Eyene and runs at the Bozar in Brussels until 28 August 2018.