This year we observe the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—an event that ostensibly signalled a triumph of the spirit of unification, openness, and democracy over authoritarianism and deep ideological division. Three decades after this momentous event, however, our world continues to be defined by division and, indeed, crisis. This is particularly evident in the former socialist bloc, where—following the fall of communism—many countries remain caught between the post-socialist and neo-liberal paradigms. Oftentimes this state of uncertainty has provided an avenue for oppressive ruling regimes to assert and popularise aggressive nationalist rhetoric. Responding to this trend, the domain of art has re-emerged as one of the main generators of political and social critique.
Focusing on case studies from Russia and Serbia, this paper examines the evolution of artistic activism in Russia and Eastern Europe over the past 30 years, and seeks to provide important insight into how art functions in an environment where critical voices are actively suppressed. By examining both the theory and practice of activist art, the paper will offer a framework for analysing the role of creative intervention within transitional post-socialist societies, and examine the potential of activist art to incite change under conditions of unfreedom.
Iva Glisic is a historian of modern Russia, Italy, and the Balkans. She received her training at the University of Belgrade and the University of Western Australia, before moving to Germany to serve as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Tübingen. Iva’s work explores the history of radical ideas, creative dissent, and the dynamic relationship between art, politics, and ideology in the 20th and 21st centuries. Her first book, The Futurist Files: Avant-Garde, Politics, and Ideology in Russia, 1905–1930 was published in 2018. Iva is a researcher at the Australian Academy of the Humanities, and an Honorary Visiting Fellow of the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.