Dread Scott, “On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide” (2014), photograph: Mark Von Holden Photography, project produced by More Art (courtesy of the artist) 

Many artists, students, educators, scholars, critics, historians, curators, and writers want to know: how can I make a difference and how can I do so while remaining relevant? City College of New York’s Art Department, with its belief in the power of the arts to exact change and dedication to making the arts relevant to all audiences, seeks to engage these questions and more at its symposium “Art, Social Change, and the Urban Sphere.”

Held in conjunction with the Grey Art Gallery’s exhibition,The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940, this symposium will bring together contemporary artists, curators, and writers to discuss socially engaged art in the urban sphere by asking panelists to respond to the question posed by the exhibition, “what could a revolutionary art be today?” For some, the will to produce a “revolutionary” art is perceived as a nostalgic leftist position. In other forums, radicalism is repackaged as mere “optimism” without any substantive political, critical, or theoretical platform. In light of the commodification of social practice, the critical debates regarding the viability of relational aesthetics, and the upsurge of community-oriented practices, this symposium asks: where do we stand today in terms of the possibilities and limitations of so-called socially engaged practices?

Participants will shed light on this topic and these questions through specific projects and interventions that broaden, complicate, and challenge our understandings of the “the public sphere” in relation to race, gender, queer politics, and state power. Artist and activist Dread Scott will speak about his recent art project on the streets of Harlem, “Wanted,” which addresses the criminalization of youth in America. Johanna Fateman, musician (Le Tigre), cultural critic, and writer, examines the feminist guerrilla performance collective, Pussy Riot, and her recent collaboration with this punk rock protest group. Multi-disciplinary artist Carlos Motta discusses Six Acts: An Experiment in Narrative Justice, a series of performative interventions in public squares held during the 2010 presidential elections in Bogotá, Colombia that propose narrative or aesthetic justice as an alternative approach to normative justice. Eva Franch i Gilabert, Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Storefront for Art and Architecture, will moderate. In addition to featuring work by these contemporary artists and writers about social change and the urban sphere, the symposium at CCNY seeks a philosophical and critical discussion regarding art, activism, and cultural production.

Art, Social Change, and the Urban Sphere will be held at the City College of New York in Compton-Goethals Hall, room 249 (140th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Hamilton Heights, Manhattan) on Thursday, March 26 at 6pm.

The Left Front: Radical Art in the “Red Decade,” 1929-1940 continues at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU (100 Washington Square E, Greenwich Village, Manhattan) through April 4.

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