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2010-2020: the most impressive subjects in the arts

30 December - 2019
by Femke van Leeuwen

Just before the start of a new decade, we look back on the most impressive subjects that were raised in the arts between 2010 and 2020. Have a look at this selection of our favourites!

Refuges

The growing stream of refuges trying to reach Europe resulted in fierce images by the press photographers, including the many photos of drowned refugees. The Chinese artist, activist and political refugee Ai Weiwei feels related to them. In 2011, Weiwei himself was arrested at the airport in Beijing on suspicion of economic crimes. He was imprisoned for 81 days. Since 2015, he has visited refugee camps in Greece, Syria, Turkey, Italy, France and other important places. The photos from these journeys hung side by side at the #SafePassage exhibition in the Foam Photography Museum Amsterdam

The thousands of photos by Ai Weiwei at the exhibition #SafePassage. Photo: ANP
The thousands of photos by Ai Weiwei at the exhibition #SafePassage. Photo: ANP

Black Lives Matter

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement began after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the death of the African-American Trayvon Martin. The Black Lives Matter activists have since then been campaigning against all forms of violence against blacks, including police violence and profiling, but also the over-punishment of blacks in the American legal system. Dareece Walker has powerfully portrayed his own experiences with his "Made in the USA": a self-portrait on cardboard.

I am made in the USA but somehow I'm not treated as a full American. I'm treated as a black American, like cardboard, disposable, easily replaced.

Dareece Walker – ‘Made in the USA’
Dareece Walker – ‘Made in the USA’

The environment and climate change 

The environment and climate change were common topics in the arts as well. For instance, artists have made the consequences of our actions to our environment visible. Also, museums started to think about their sources of income. The Tate Britain in London, for example, eventually ended its relationship with BP after an anti-BP protest.

Anti-BP protest at the Tate Britain, London, 2011
Anti-BP protest at the Tate Britain, London, 2011

Another example is the artwork ‘Skyscraper’ by Studio KCA: a plastic whale made from blue and white litter collected within four months from the coasts of Hawaii, New York and Zeebrugge. The creators wanted to draw attention to the plastic soup in the oceans.

Studio KCA – ‘Skyscraper’. Photo: Robert Oosterbroek
Studio KCA – ‘Skyscraper’. Photo: Robert Oosterbroek

In 2015, Daan Roosegaarde showed the effect of climate change on our water level with his installation ‘Water Light’ on the Museumplein in Amsterdam (see header image). With Roosegaarde’s light show, visitors could experience for themselves how high the water could be. Roosegaarde has gone one step further by making the world a little cleaner with his work. For example, Studio Roosegaarde has released the ‘Smog Free Ring’. The ring contains a cube of compressed smog, collected by the ‘Smog Free Tower’. Each ring stands for 1000 m3 of clean air. 

True beauty is not a Louis Vuitton bag or a Ferrari, but clean air and clean energy.

Studio Roosegaarde – ‘Smog Free Ring’
Studio Roosegaarde – ‘Smog Free Ring’

Women in the arts 

Since 1989 already, the Guerrilla Girls have been making posters about the role of women in museums. The 2012 version as shown below remarks that still less than 4% of the artists in the Modern Arts departments at the Metropolitan Museum (New York) are women, whereas no less than 76% of the nudes depicted are female.

Guerrilla Girls – ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ (2012)
Guerrilla Girls – ‘Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?’ (2012)

From October 2017 onwards, the role of women has been in the spotlight again when the hashtag #MeToo spread at lightning speed. With this hashtag, women expressed that they had dealt with sexual harassment. Some artists have been accused of such practices since then, and museums have started to debate whether or not to remove art that sexualizes women. 

Artists as well responded to the #MeToo movement, including Judith Osborn. Known for her painted female nudes, Osborn announced that it is now necessary to continue to combat the oppression of women. In a subsequent photo series, Osborn was draped in various materials such as sheets, foil, packaging material, etc., to celebrate the female body and sexuality. 

Women have the right to celebrate their own body and sexuality.

Judith Osborn (model) & Rianne Noordegraaf (photographer)
Judith Osborn (model) & Rianne Noordegraaf (photographer)

2019 was marked by 100 years of women's electoral right. Earlier this year we wrote about the series of the round-shaped artworks that the art collective Popinnart had made for this occasion. During their exhibition at Art The Hague 2019, they also led male buyers of their works pay 6% more to close the pay gap.


Image header: "Waterlicht" (2015). Installation on the Museumplein, Amsterdam. Artwork © Daan Roosegaarde

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