A Brief History of Protest Art

A new exhibit at the Whitney in New York examines how some artists became activists in order to help create a better future. “An Incomplete History of Protest,” featuring painters, photographers, and other artists, illustrates the role art plays in confronting important political and social issues.

For example, in 1966, Life Magazine sent photographer Gordon Parks to photograph boxer Muhammad Ali during training in Miami. “The world heavyweight champion was then a controversial public figure, having recently changed his name from Cassius Clay and declared himself a conscientious objector to the war in Vietnam on religious grounds,” notes The Guardian. “His fists, wrapped in white bandages, seem to glow against the dark chair. Parks’s depiction of a private, introspective moment is a moving allusion to Ali’s status as a symbol of his time, a fighter who refused to fight.”

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