ART.20.004 – Protest Appeals: The Affect & Aesthetics of Eastern European Activism

Route: Art: research and innovation in the 21st century

Cluster question: 067 What does art mean to people?

Protests traditionally rank as social or political practices. But to understand their effects we should also read them as emotional and aesthetic events. Activism only ‘works’ once it appeals to broad audiences. How do protesters generate public esteem for actions – and how do they mobilize key political and media actors? To study this question, PROTEST APPEALS compares protest practices across Eastern Europe. This region’s activist history is rich – but its emotional and aesthetic dynamics are severely understudied. The project evolves from longer-term cooperation between University of Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, and Van Abbemuseum. Experts from these partner institutions unite with local specialists and artists to study Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian PROTEST IMAGES, PROTEST SOUNDS, and PROTEST WORDS. They use the two museums’ world-renowned Eastern-European art collections to compare the impact of selected activist art works, posters, photos, fashion, poems, and songs in two periods of heightened public activism: the 1910s and 2010s. The project conjoins two relevant but practically disconnected fields: 1. transnational theorizing of protest aesthetics and 2. studies of cultural protest forms across Eastern Europe. PROTEST APPEALS thickens field 1. with insights from, within this field, undertheorized localities (where effective activist strategies include new-media innovations, parodying, and gender- and nation branding); and they nuance field 2. by pairing it to transnational theorizing. In doing so, the project complicates neatly dichotomous pictures of ‘the regime’ as diametric opposite of historical avant-gardes, activist vloggers, and other cultural pioneers. We use PERFORMANCES and EXHIBITIONS at Stedelijk and Van Abbemuseum and an interactive DIGITAL LIBRARY of Eastern-European protest images, sounds, and words to invite public discussion about the broader social question: How does protest appeal to people? How do today’s protesters reappropriate historical protest sounds, images, and words, for instance? And which emotional and creative tools do people use to amplify dissent?


activism, aesthetics, affect, Eastern Europe, protest cultures

Other organisations

Stedelijk Museum, Van Abbemuseum


Organisation University of Amsterdam (UvA)
Name Prof.dr. E. (Ellen) Rutten