The protests in Hong Kong and Ferguson, like so many others, were both characterized by a strong presence of artists. In China, dissidents plastered the streets with posters, erected sculptures, installed interactive artworks, and even live-sketched the demonstrations. In Missouri, artists embellished the flimsy plywood boards that had been tacked on shop windows with bright drawings and inspirational slogans.
Members of both communities are now rallying to save these creations. Yesterday, police in Hong Kong dismantled the metal barriers in the central Business District that had protected the Umbrella Movement’s make-shift camp — but not before the Art Preservation Group carried out a last-minute sweep to save as many pamphlets, drawings, paintings, and sculptures as they could. “We will keep them temporarily in our storage and then plan what’s next,” Sampson Wong, of the Umbrella Movement Visual Archives and Research Collective, told The Straits Times.
In Ferguson, the Missouri History Museum and the Regional Art Commission have announced their plans to preserve the plywood paintings made by a group of about 100 artists working through Paint for Peace STL, the Columbia Missourian reported. Speaking with the newspaper, Director of Library and Collections Chris Gordon explained that the museum hopes to collect them for research and a possible exhibit.
Since it wouldn’t be in the true spirit of protest if there weren’t at least a few voices of dissent, not everyone’s on board with preserving these ephemeral but powerful works. In Hong Kong, many museums that were asked to keep some of the artworks rejected them because they were “political.” And in Ferguson, one BBQ joint owner whose business was burned down said this: “It’s not the history you’d want to remember.”
But you only have to browse archives of protest art from the civil rights era and Vietnam War demonstrations (like this one and this one) to see how valuable they are. Preserving modern mementoes of resistance will offer future generations an important window into the discontents of our own.