It’s Activism, But is it Art?

Dr Victoria Powell
10 min readNov 23, 2023

Some thoughts on the feminist art exhibition at London’s Tate gallery

‘Women Are Revolting’ protest badge on display at the Women in Revolt! exhibition at Tate Britain. Photo my own.

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Shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022, shoppers noticed strange changes to the price of goods in supermarkets across Russia. Chocolate appeared cheap at 14 rubles a bar, jars of coffee 400 rubles. As consumers looked at the price labels more closely they read about the 14 lorries of humanitarian aid that had been blocked from entering Kherson to reach desperate Ukrainian civilians, and they learned about the 400 people that had been sheltering in a school building as it was blown up by the Russian army.

At the start of the Ukrainian invasion the Russian president Vladimir Putin made it illegal for citizens to say anything negative about the war, cracking down hard by arresting and imprisoning people who openly protested against what was going on. Quickly seeking alternative ways to challenge this tyranny of the state, artist activists put together DIY packs of false price tags with anti-war messaging that people could print out and put up in their local shops. In a country where the government controls all media messaging, these were small, disruptive acts of protest to raise awareness of what was really happening. The intention was to get Russian civilians to question government propaganda in quiet, non-violent ways.

On Thursday last week the 33 year old artist and musician Aleksandra Skochilenko was found guilty of ‘knowingly spreading false information about the Russian army’ and was sentenced to seven years in a penal colony. After she had put up five of these labels in a supermarket in St Petersburg last year, she was tracked down and arrested. Skochilenko was using a creative visual form of communication to speak directly to her fellow Russians. This kind of activist art which is dispersed in public space, connecting person with person, integrated into everyday life, side-stepping dominant channels and institutions of power to present alternative perspectives, is vital and real. It can bring hope to people where there is little hope.

As news of this young woman’s long and overly-punitive prison sentence was breaking, I was visiting the Tate gallery in London to see…

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Dr Victoria Powell

I write about art, history, politics & culture, without the confusing art speak. Crazy about dogs. Victorian historian. 19th-century gentleman in a former life.