Protest Art in the New Autocracy

20 June 2019 - 21 June 2019

SG1 and SG2, Alison Richard Building

Registration for this conference is now open. Fees are £40 (full fee) or £20 (student / unwaged) and are inclusive of lunches and refreshments. One-day registration is also available.  



Nicola Kozicharow (University of Cambridge)



From Brexit to Trump’s presidency to Putin’s Russia, leaders around the world have incited a culture of global protest. Whether social, political, economic, or ecological, protest has become a permanent fixture in today’s society in an unprecedented way, even compared with the political activism of the 1960s. Amid fake news and censorship, grassroots movements and campaigns such as March for Our Lives and #MeToo have made radical use of platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to broadcast their messages as widely as possible. This digital culture has granted images a newfound currency, and their intrinsic ability to capture and spread ideas and attitudes too complex or emotionally charged for words has propelled them into the spotlight in political debates. Contemporary artists have adapted their practices as a result, co-opting new strategies and media to make themselves – and their issues – heard. The media furore surrounding MoMA’s protest of the immigration ban or the controversial display of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket has shown that museums are no longer neutral spaces, and even the more ‘traditional’ gallery space of the white cube could be a powerful arena for dissent. While art and protest has long been an area of interest for scholars, the full extent of the role visual images have played more recently in this climate of unrest has yet to be explored.

This conference aims to showcase the diverse forms of contemporary protest art that have emerged around the world over the last few years in a single interdisciplinary forum. The potential of art to serve as a tool for protest will be closely considered, especially the ability of digital media to reach new audiences and galvanise this unquenchable global discontent. The conference’s approach, however, will remain critical, and the effectiveness of art as protest will be questioned. If a work of art or action only succeeds in reaching likeminded individuals rather than instigating real change, does this signify failure? How can museums and artists voice issues in a way that inspires action, and where do they compromise? The conference presents a rare opportunity for established and emerging scholars (including cultural, art, and political historians, sociologists, and historians of literary studies), artists, and museum directors and curators to forge a multidisciplinary dialogue on these challenges and questions. It will highlight protest as a central concern in various academic and professional spheres through a rich set of papers addressing a variety of media (digital art, comics and graphic novels, installation, performance, cinema, social media, sculpture, and painting), issues (gender, race, ecology and climate change, capitalism, and technology), creative spaces (gallery, street, digital, and print), and national contexts (the US and UK, Russia, China, and Latin America).




Supported by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies (BASEES), the University of Cambridge's Department of History of Art, and the Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC).


Administrative assistance:


Unfortunately, we are unable to arrange or book accommodation for registrants. The following websites may be of help:

Day 1 - Thursday 20 June

10.15 - 10.45


10.45 - 11.00

Welcome and Opening

11.00 - 13.00

Session 1: Russia and Protest

Chair: Nicola Kozicharow (University of Cambridge)


Denis Stolyarov (The Courtauld Institute of Art)

‘Back to the Real: Agony and Art in Contemporary Russia’


Anastasia Patsey (Museum of Nonconformist Art, St Petersburg)  

‘The Phenomenon of Pushkinskaya-10: Nonconformist Art between Leningrad and St Petersburg’


Vlad Strukov (University of Leeds)  

‘Art and Protest after Pussy Riot’

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 16.00

Session 2: Apocalypse Now?

Chair: Kirsty Sinclair Dootson (University of Cambridge)


Heather Inwood (University of Cambridge)

‘The Art of the Undead in Post-Umbrella Movement Hong Kong’


Keith Wagner (UCL)

Train to Busan (2016): The Candlelight Struggle, Zombies, and a Man-Made Neoliberal Disaster’


Peter Shenai (Art In Site; Artist, London)

Hurricane Bells: A Memorial for the Past, an Alarm Call for the Future’

16.00 - 16.30


16.30 - 17.00


Ray Filar (University of Sussex / Performance Artist, London)

The Sexist Chair

17.30 - 19.00

Drinks Reception in the Graham Storey Room, Trinity Hall

Day 2 – Friday 21 June

9.30 - 11.00

Session 3: Power and Strategy

Chair: Maria Mileeva (UCL)


Vid Simoniti (University of Liverpool)

‘Forms of Deception in Alt-Right Visual Culture’


Michał Murawski (UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies)

‘Perverting the Power Vertical: Shapes and Styles of Subversion in the (Trans-Socialist) Global East’ 

11.00 - 11.30


11.30 - 13.00

Session 4: Protest and Women Artists

Chair: Denis Stolyarov (The Courtauld Institute of Art)


Jane Partner (University of Cambridge)

‘Textile Art and the Sculptural Forms of Feminist Protest’ 


Amy Tobin (Kettle's Yard / University of Cambridge)

‘Protest Abstracted. On Julie Mehretu’s Recent Work’

13.00 - 14.00


14.00 - 15.30

Session 5: Art and Activism

Chair: Jane Partner (University of Cambridge)


Marta Kotwas (UCL School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies)

‘Subverting the Nationalist Version of Patriotism: Feminist Responses to the Far-Right Narrative in Poland’


Ray Filar (University of Sussex / Performance Artist, London)

‘Sex Worker Activism in the UK’

15.30 - 15.45


15.45 - 16.15

Final Discussion