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Pretty Political - mixing Art and Politics


Blog post by Jorine Beck

As a University of Leeds alumni I am pleased to be able to share some thoughts on the relationship between academics, global inequality, art and the general public with you. Under the name ‘PrettyPolitical’ I make political art and studying at the University of Leeds inspired me a lot to build my ideas further.

In Leeds I studied the MA course ‘Theatre and Global Development’ at the School of English and POLIS. Before attending the Masters, I had worked in the arts and mental health care. Having always had an interest in global politics and discourses around inequality and human rights, I was eager to apply my knowledge about processes of change in the arts in a more political manner. I now organise and manage arts projects around peace and social justice, and create political art.

In the ‘Esscher Series’ I re-created the famous ongoing structures by Dutch artist M.C. Esscher in the context of inter-religious violence, military intervention, global dependence on oil and bankers during the financial crisis (on permanent display in the POLIS building). The symbolism in well-known fairytales formed the basis for the series ‘Political Fairytales’, in which The Wolf and the Three Pigs, The Golden Goose and Hansel and Gretel exposed controversies in the contemporary society.

What I love about Esscher's work is that he creates all sort of dynamic structures, which challenge perceptions of movement and identity. In his work 'Day and Night' (1938), plots of rural land turn into black and white birds that fly in different directions. In my piece 'The Blame Game' pictured above, I use this idea to explore ongoing violence and hate on the global scale: one (seemingly) insulated event, represented by the drop of blood, can lead to different groups blaming each other, and escalating violence. I think my piece still resonates with the original atmosphere  Esscher's work breaths, depicting division so closely before the start of WW2.

Recently I finished the art project ‘FirstWorldAid’, in which I explored how the Global South could develop the Global North. Through complex ink and watercolour drawings I explored the role of the Global North in perpetuating global inequalities. I took inspiration from studying well known symbols and depictions, to see what their meanings could teach us in a more political context.

Art is my way of staying engaged with the world and not feel overwhelmed at the same time. Translating academic insights into provocative pictures was a way for me to channel and share my ideas and questions. Also, I found that many academic ideas are not easy accessible to the general public, so I was motivated to share my work hoping it would inform and provoke new audiences. The aesthetics and role of arts in wider society help sharing important ideas beyond the written word alone.
Even though I only started to make political art in 2013, I have been making art for a long time. As a child I already loved to experiment with visual arts. My grandfather taught me how to paint, which opened doors for me to express my ideas. I started mashing up different topics and styles in each work, filling every room in my parents’ house with my wacky canvasses. This early interest in contrasting styles and seemingly contradicting topics can still be found in my current work. I love including both naturalistic and cartoonish aspects, with smooth watercolours and black and white ink patterns. The style highlights the contradictions in the topics I explore.

In 2014 I organised a permanent political art exhibition by students from POLIS who were involved in many different art forms, celebrating art works that embrace both academic knowledge and artistic skill. In December 2015 I opened my web shop ‘Pretty Political’ and work from my ‘FirstWorldAid’ project is currently being exhibited at P Café in Birmingham.

Twitter: @JorineBeck