In recent years the art world have been fairly slow and uncertain about injecting political issues into their work that comment on the big issues of our time. Opposition to the war against Iraq was especially muted. One of the few British bands to show their opposition was Massive Attack, whose frontman, Robert Del Naja has recently spoken to the New Statesmen about how he was shocked that few musicians were willing to speak out: 'On the eve of the 2003 Iraq invasion, he and Damon Albarn tried to organise a group of similarly prominent musicians into an anti-war campaign, only to be greeted, he says, with a silence bordering on hostility.' [Read more below]
Del Naja is scathing of the pop world's superficial woolly politics: 'Everyone is happy to get behind a cause like Make Poverty History, or fair-trade and environment issues. But when it comes to politics, they are reluctant.' Massive Attack are currently playing benefit concerts to fundraise for Palestine. They were encouraged into the cause by Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream who once caused an uproar at Glastonbury by changing the slogan on a banner from "Make Poverty History" to "Make Israel History"!
A recent feature in the UK's Independent also details some of the artists that have been rising to the challenge of critiquing the West's wars - see The guilty conscience of the West. It points to new art in the theatre, the visual arts, and highlights people like Harold Pinter, George Michael [who incidentally recently performed a free concert for nurses: 'Society calls what you do a vocation, and that means you don't fucking get paid properly. This evening is me saying thank you to you'), Neil Young, and Damon Albarn. One acclaimed artist, Mark Wallinger, who currently has a major anti-war installation at the Tate Britain in London, is quoted: 'Art is just a reflection of the rest of society and there's such a quiescent acceptance of capitalism really. I've been pretty shocked that post-9/11 there hasn't been a great deal of work that addressed that.'
Patti Smith has also recently commented to the Guardian on the lack of artists adopting political positions, saying 'Musicians, poets, artists, writers, everyone steered clear of [the Iraq] war, which was a great disappointment', and 'I don't understand it. I mean, you had someone like Susan Sontag, Steve Earle, there were a few people, but you could almost count them on one hand.' In the same article Smith also distances herself from being portrayed merely as a feminist activist: 'I never did my work to speak for women or speak to any faction..... I spoke for all people. I still feel that I speak for disenfranchised people, except that when I was younger, in 1975, it was a smaller group of disenfranchised people. Now I feel like we're all disenfranchised.'