The intersection of Politics and Art

I can’t get enough of socially engaged or politically based artwork – for some reason it feeds many of my personal interests: social justice, politics, foreign policy, sociology and history, amongst others. A work being “beautiful” is rarely enough to make me fall in love with it.

I often feel torn when I come across such work at Art Basel Miami as it means that the commercial side of the art world is also either getting involved in social justice… or cashing in on what they see as a potentially lucrative trend. (NB this comment is not meant as an indictment of either gallery below, but more as a general sentiment – and when given the choice between art that makes us face difficult realities – but with a price tag – and those that are simply art for art’s sake, I’ll choose reality every day). 

With that said, different types of art permit individuals to express themselves alternatively and permit engagement on a variety of levels. For some, reading a book may be escapism, for others art. For some, art may be the realistic slap in the face we need, for others it’ll be a book on the same topic. 

Joyce Kozloff at DC Moore Gallery

This oversized sculpture by Joyce Kozloff at DC Moore Gallery’s stand at Art Basel flips the concept of a globe and instead creates a sphere one can walk into. The space echoes as one speaks, and the colors inside are striking. Yet the colors are really just the first step in comprehending what we are seeing. 

art basel miami political artwork
Inside are hand-painted maps,

Each section of the globe representing a location bombed by the US between 1945 and 2000, is impressive. One becomes aware the level to which the United States has inserted itself into the politics of other countries throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Selected Exhibitions at Art Basel Miami - Political Artwork

Recollecting that this is an artifact of a pre-9/11 world, the piece presages history and shows that our “War on Terror” was a simple continuation of previously established foreign policy.

Selected Exhibitions at Art Basel Miami - Political Artwork
A visitor experiencing the globe

Hank Willis Thomas at Jack Shainman Gallery

This piece literally stopped me in my tracks. Rarely have I found a bronze sculpture to be so dynamic and arresting. Composed of disembodied arms pulling what one assumes is a black man in multiple different directions left me with a sense of nausea.

Per the artist, this piece is based famous Danny Lyon photograph of Clifford Vaughs. I learned this thanks to this article, and offers even more literal context for the piece.

Selected Exhibitions at Art Basel Miami - Political Artwork
Hank Willis Thomas, Looking for America, 2018, bronze and steel


Hank Willis Thomas is a conceptual artist living and working in New York City. His work focuses on themes related to perspective identity, commodity, media, and popular culture…  [Thomas says,] “I’m interested in the way that black men are the most feared and revered bodies in the world in this weird way. I was trying to figure out why that was and what that was about, and the relationship to slavery and commodity, which is commerce, culture, cotton, and that body type.” 

Jack Shainman Gallery

My immediate thought when initially seeing the work was that the person was about to be lynched, but I also contemplated that there was an even deeper meaning. Reading about the artist, I imagine that both a literal and physical “grabbing” of the male body is being presented.

While “Looking for America” represents lynching, perhaps the artist also wishes to represent violence against black men and the objectification of the black male body. The tension in this piece as well as its composition, while hard to photograph, make it an exceptional work of art.

Selected Exhibitions at Art Basel Miami - Political Artwork
Hank Willis Thomas, Looking for America, 2018, bronze and steel

You can read some of Willis’ direct comments about the work on the’s Article, which I’ve linked to here.

These are two pieces that struck me as particularly powerful as well as socially-minded from my visit to Art Basel. More items I love from Art Basel to come!