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“Art reminds you that you have a soul when you’ve forgotten that you have one”: Visiting the Art of Protest Gallery

Jenny Glas takes a trip to York's inspiring contemporary art space, the Art of Protest Gallery.

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Image Credit: Jenny Glas

Art can often be conceptualised through unsettling experiences, and so it expresses emotions which are less palatable for the spoken or written word.  Creativity, therefore, expands our awareness of the human condition.

Breaking down boundaries and merging topics, concepts and ideas that don't often fit into a straight-line creative practice dispels the constraints of society, which often doesn’t easily allow artistic licence.  I was therefore excited and intrigued to walk past the Art of Protest Gallery in the centre of York, during my second year of University.

As I passed under the Walmgate arches, I caught a glimpse of the work displayed in the Gallery window, which offered a range of different mediums - the framed paintings and ceramics showcased were bold and powerful. I caught sight of a clay model which grabbed my attention, not least because of the golden lustre and glaze, and the free drawn images.

The title of the piece was The Understanding of Life goes Beyond Safety. This resonated with me, speaking to the experiences we come face to face with which usually serve to make us stronger. I felt the piece addressed the difficult question of: how far does one go to hold onto idealism, whilst faced with a reality that doesn’t always work to incorporate it?

I’ve usually found that art can help.

The impulse to go over or under the limits of what is acceptable in order to make sense of the world, or in many cases just to put a focus on what you're feeling, can be overwhelming.  Creativity and artistic processes then take on even more importance in the current times.

Learning how to live above the surface noise of issues such as poverty, conflict, global warming, and mental health is challenging. Creativity offers a way in which to process world issues, whilst not losing yourself in the scope of difficulties that are presented by modern living. Our culture lends itself to music, philosophy and visual media - escapism is important for anyone who feels sharply the conditions of living with grief and instability, feelings which have resurfaced and been amplified by the pandemic for most of us.

The gallery displayed many colourful, vibrant, and diverse works, showing how the importance of art has grown with the pandemic, as we’ve faced situations which have been heart-breaking - in some cases, soul-destroying. As we watched theatres and shops close temporarily, most of us were left with no option but to draw on our own resources in order to stay creative and connected.

The phrase “knowledge is power” suggests that if you're ready to meet the uncertainties of what you don't know with an open mind and the ability to embrace a new perspective, anyone can empower themselves through their own approaches.  The Art of Protest Gallery, being freedom-orientated, was then refreshing, full of inspiration for viewers.

I was in awe of the variety of media and range of crafts offered by the Gallery.  I noticed that the relationship between animate and inanimate was enlivened, as the colour and  different prints electrified the portraits and three dimensional creations illustrating a horizon of ideas that burst out of the artworks on display. The descriptions of artists at work, ranging from Ben Allen to Banksy, converge elements of pop culture with layers of colour and graffiti.  This acknowledgement allowed me to see the importance of ulterior consciousness to working creatives - how do you find an outlet to express both interiority and exteriority, whilst still being original?

Contemporary, rebellious, and engaged in pop culture, there is information on the artists, what they do, and where they are based available to read. Countries and cities of inspiration are mentioned such as Newcastle, as well as large brands and big labels which catch the eye. Art of Protest was a wholly innovative experience and provided an exhibition of creative industry at both high tech and grass roots level.

The phrase "Art reminds you that you have a soul when you've forgotten that you have one" was attached to a theatre company I had the privilege of watching whilst visiting the Fringe Festival in Australia. The distinct visuals of the Art of Protest Gallery cast me back to a time when getting on a plane alone to cross over to the other side of the world was the craziest idea I'd had since deciding to apply my own makeup at nine years old. I didn't really have any idea about what might happen but it seemed like a great choice to be going on with. All in all, both instances were mostly thrilling, if slightly terrifying, but nevertheless an opportunity to learn something new: Mascara on my glasses was not a good look.

I’m looking forward to visiting the Gallery more often. It is so common that our mistakes are brandished as warning signs or instances of failure, when sometimes your mistakes can be the best things that happen to you. The amalgamation of colour and imagery in the Gallery reminded me how important it is to take risks and be dynamic when making artistic choices.

Paying attention to detail in an age of extremes is a way of channelling emotion into an authentic project. The fear of the blank canvas became a lot less intimidating once I had been exposed to the simple yet magnetic work at the Art of Protest Gallery.

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