Weapons of Countervisuality? Street Art As a Practice of Rule or Resistance

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 09:48
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Lisa BOGERTS, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
Street art is becoming a frequently used medium in recent protest movements related to the global capitalist crisis. Media reporting on the Occupy movement and on the European financial crisis is often characterized by pictures of civil society protest in the form of slogans, murals and stencils on the walls. Due to its visual and symbolic language, street art is able to deliver political messages to a transnational public and to generate solidarity in social movements. With no doubt, the often colorful und expressive pictures have the potential to catch the viewers´ attention and to draw it to the subject and the protagonists of the protests.

At the same time, it would be naïve to consider street art as a genuine “weapon of resistance” for the subaltern and the oppressed. This genre of art is increasingly being used by powerful actors such as governments and companies to spread messages of advertisement and propaganda. 

In my PhD thesis, I am investigating the potential of street art as a means of visual political communication for both protesters and powerful actors. How does the appearance of street art in the mass media change the perception of the crisis and the protests against it?

In Visual Culture, images are seen as a “constantly challenging place of social interaction” (Mirzoeff 1999). Going further into Critical Visual Theory, I am discussing Nicholas Mirzoeff´s ("The Right to Look", 2011) concept of “countervisuality”, as used by resistance actors. In terms of method, I am utilising Gillian Rose’s (2012) method of critical visual (discourse) analysis to analyse examples of street art images. Rose analyses images in three steps, namely 1) the site of the production, 2) the site of the image itself, and 3) the site of its audience. Within step 2), also Panofsky’s iconological approach is applied.