Earlier this year Wolverhampton Art Gallery played host to a V&A collection titled ‘A World to Win: Posters of Protest and Revolution’. The exhibition chiefly looks at posters that have contributed to historical and perceptive change in the general public.
The power of many of the posters lies in their ability to combine text and image in a way that brings about a powerful message that elicits some form of response: many beginning and ending with a shift in ideology, others often calling for a radical and concrete commitment to the cause.
The exhibition did require a small amount of reading (all essential information was provided in the exhibition itself, no real understanding of political history was necessary), but if one really engaged with the work, A World to Win was a weighty marvel. By no means attempting to answer questions about the relationship between art and protest in the abstract sense, the exposition did have a nice little feature that explored the transformation of ‘protest posters’ into a viral phenomenon.
The Church has more than played its part in this history. Having both stood in the position of the authoritarian oppressors and the dissenting revolutionaries, we have played the game, and arguably, we mastered it in its earliest forms!
Was not Protestant Reformer Martin Luther one of the first to fully utilize the power of print technology to “mobilize, educate, and organize”? Luther also used cartoons and caricatures created by Lucas Cranach in his pamphlets, books, and posters
Has not the book of Revelation often been interpreted as the polemic of an aging and imprisoned apostle against the tyrannical Roman Empire? The apocalyptic literature was certainly not created to legitimize the contemporary order: its symbols and images utilized popular emblems in the subversive story of the imminent downfall of the powers and principalities (as it is still today!).
Before print, Jeremiah was creating some radical political statements against Ancient Israel’s corrupt government using very physical means. Soiled loincloths, broken flasks, and wooden yokes are all part of the prophet’s oeuvre in his protests against the nation’s immorality.
Though these are not all examples of ‘posters’ in the strict sense, they are certainly the supporting media of a type of ‘campaign’, not purely ‘religious’, nor purely ‘political’.
I am not suggesting that our art should now all become poster based and illegally pasted on the side of governmental buildings, no less that my post on Cildo Meireles’ Ideological Insertions is advocating printing bible quotes on Coca-Cola bottles. But what I am suggesting and asking is how much should a Kingdom inspired art practice seek to couple image and text, word and flesh, to mobilize, educate, and organize people, not ‘into the Church’ but ‘in step with the Kingdom in our midst’?
Where advertisements have the power to lull an unsuspecting public into a position of continual and mindless mass-consumption: I do not believe it is our role to be publicizing a nice religious product to purchase. Rather, how can we, learning from the history of campaign call out for an unwavering commitment to a different kind of kingdom?
Benjamin Harris considers himself a student of art and theology, but somehow gets paid to teach them both.