fold #07 on Solidarity
Graphics by Jinhye Lee
April 2023 – July
Fold #07 on Solidarity
Michael Leung (HK)
Reading fold I.
Reading fold II.
Reading fold III.
14.05. – 25.06.2023
Exhibition in WARP #09
This research text is
part our long-term programme
on art and sustainability in fold #07
Find the full reading list on Solidarity here
Thoughts on Solidarity
In response to the social and economic changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century solidarity emerged. In recent years, solidarity has become increasingly important in the fight against climate change. The global nature of the climate crisis has made it clear that we must act collectively and collaborate on a local as well as international scale. The youth-led climate strikes, for example, have been a powerful expression of solidarity, with young people coming together from around the world to demand urgent action on climate change. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of solidarity in responding to crises, by providing support and care for those who are most vulnerable, from healthcare workers on the front lines to those who have lost jobs and income due to lockdowns.
Social solidarity refers to a shared sense of responsibility, compassion, and commitment towards the well-being of others in society. It is an essential aspect of human relationships and a fundamental component of a healthy and thriving community. Social solidarity requires individuals to recognize the interconnectedness of their lives and to act with empathy and understanding towards one another. Solidarity has been essential in building a sense of community and shared struggle amongst people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It emerges from the situation and from the inner flame to support those who found themselves powerless. Solidarity can be practiced by artists regardless of their disciplines.
Throughout history, solidarity has played a vital role in promoting social change and advancing social justice and equality. By coming together to support one another and to challenge oppressive structures and systems, communities have been able to make significant progress towards a more just and equitable world. There has been a growing awareness of the urgent need for solidarity in contemporary art and artistic production. Artists have the ability to create works that challenge dominant narratives and expose the inequalities that underlie them by actively responding to the current. Solidarity in contemporary art is not just about making a political statement, but about creating a sense of connection and shared experience that can be transformative. It is about recognizing our interconnectedness and working together towards a more just and equitable future.
Solidarity could take on many forms, from collaboration between artists to support for marginalized peer communities and precarious living situations and the importance of solidarity in contemporary art is understated. Art has always been a powerful tool for social change, and artists have a unique ability to engage audiences in important conversations about politics, culture, and society. As T.J. Demos notes on the political possibilities of collective action in his book Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today (2017) Collective struggle is not merely a means to a political end, but also a transformative aesthetic and ethical experience that can reconstitute subjectivity and social relations, effecting new forms of solidarity and shared meaning.
Solidarity touches upon migration, globalization, capitalism, and climate change. These issues are intrinsically linked, as environmental damage and climate change disproportionately affect marginalized communities for example. The extraction of resources for industrial production and the exploitation of labor are key drivers of both environmental destruction and social inequality. In this context, solidarity is not just an ethical imperative, but a necessary condition for social and ecological survival. This concept has been explored for example in films and artworks by Oliver Ressler, an Austrian artist, whose works address social, economic, and political issues. He depicts sustainable communities, decentralized economies, and collective ownership of resources, offering a hopeful vision of a future built on principles of social solidarity and ecological sustainability. By highlighting the work of activists and community groups, Ressler’s films demonstrate the power of collective action and the potential for social change through solidarity and in challenging dominant narratives and promoting alternative visions of social justice and equality.
In her book The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2020), anthropologist Anna L. Tsing remarks that solidarity is essential for sustainability. She notes that sustainability is often reduced to technical and managerial solutions, which fail to address the social and ecological entanglements that generate environmental degradation and social injustice. Tsing emphasizes the importance of working across disciplines and collaborating with diverse communities to achieve sustainability.
Gavin Jantjes artist and curator from South Africa remarks in The Myth of the Artist in South Africa (2019), the production of art is never an individual act, but a collective one.” Jantjes argues that art is always produced in a social and political context and that artists must be aware of their role in this context. By working together, artists can create works that are more socially and politically relevant, and that have a greater impact on audiences. However, according to Jantjes, to fully realize this potential, artists must work together in solidarity.
Because solidarity can be easily undermined by discrimination, segregation and division as seen in the struggle for civil rights and other social movements, a lack of solidarity in contemporary art is a significant obstacle to achieving social and ecological sustainability or putting it more bluntly, giving the sector a voice in the capitalist and monetizing everything society. Even though solidarity can be difficult to achieve, as it requires a shared commitment to a common goal and an understanding of the interconnectedness of social needs for all those in need to find sustenance from the art sector, artists need to formulate the aim of building networks of support and care by challenging oppressive systems and structures.
Solidarity, as a needed quality in achieving progress in sustainability in the arts, is still severely counterbalanced by capitalistic forces and formats which for example requires report check-ins, reports, applications, balance accounting, and monetize wherever possible in exchange for unsustainable support. Alms that can hardly cover an average part-time salary incl. social premiums. An approach which turns individual artists and art organizations into competitors, instead of offering a fair opportunity to grow mutual understanding, to encourage the transfer of knowledge and to find common goals for solidarity to flourish. In the light of the present urgencies and the growing list of global crises our society faces, pushing art and artists in a steepening capitalistic divided structure of the wealthy few and the marginalized many. The so-called art-world has a u-turn to make, to rise into solidarity and find support in assessing what artists are best at: being a powerful guide, alternating views and envisaging unusual tools for social change. To make us live another day on this unique and irreplaceable planet Earth, as species amongst many, as a balanced society on its way to foster its humanities and kickstart solutions for the crises at hand.
Demos, T.J. Against the Anthropocene: Visual Culture and Environment Today. 2017
Tsing, A. L. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. 2020
Jantjes, G. The Myth of the Artist in South Africa. 2019
d’Alancaisez, P. Art in solidarity with itself, 2021 – retrieved from the internet 03.03.2023
This is only a selection of reading resources on solidarity. For the full reading, list suggestions visit the Solidarity reading list.