Kiss and Tell: The Truth About Art and Activism

Tristan Tzara demanded the right to pee in three colors, Peaches brought together 400 supporters in a music video dedicated to freeing Pussy Riot, and I myself have smashed no small number of televisions left by the side of the road in some combination of sheer joy, curiosity, and rage against the pop culture status quo. Now activist artists shatter CCTV cameras throughout the Sbahn? Sure, why not. 

In a city where artists advocate for environmental and aesthetic change as guerrilla gardeners or step out onto the streets with some spray-paint and voice opinions, there is always a new way to bring art into our everyday lives. In a city that welcomes the cold, the hungry, the creative, the crazy, the chic and the cutting edge, it only remains to locate where exactly in the illustrious history of Berlin’s socially engaged art this new creative craze will rest. 

From Weimar to The Wall

Long before the 7th Berlin Biennale became the “Occupy Biennale,” Berlin was a hub for activist artists. Between 1918 and 1920, Berlin Dadaists staged protests and pageants in the streets, combining “religious, military, and political forms of public performance with [the distribution] of a political paper, Every Man His Own Football.” Performance and protest were united in these early years, beginning a centuries-long tradition of public protest art.

Despite an illustrious tradition of performance, perhaps the most visible, and internationally recognized iteration of activist art in Berlin centers around the street art scene. According to Laura Forlano of The Center for International Organization, “The appropriation of public space including parks, streets and buildings has long been a central goal of activism in the urban fabric.” And no city represents the appropriation of public space through art better than Berlin.