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Electronic Artists Carry on Tradition of Artist-Activism

As an NPR aficionado, I was intrigued by a recent series on Morning Edition entitled “In the Internet Age, a New Cultural Revolution” in which correspondent Laura Sydell detailed how Chinese artists have found a creative niche on the Web. Electronic musicians and authors such as B6 or Zhang Shuyu are not only using cyberspace as an outlet through which to display their unique talents, but to make a living as well – “skirting censors” to liberate themselves from China’s harsh censorship practices. Chinese online artists are an example of how the internet has become a hub for authors, musicians, and entertainers globally not only to promote their individual work, but more importantly, to evade and challenge restrictive state policies.

The Internet is not only helping artists create virtual studios or encourage new forms of art education, however, it is also promoting the tradition of activist-art. Some electronic artist-activists are more obvious about their objectives. For example, revealed that Zimbabwean protest singer Viomak launched the Voto Radio Station on the internet in opposition to Zimbabwe’s censorship policies. And others, such as British collector Charles Saatchi ,are more subtle: In an attempt to break down cultural and language barriers, he created an online art gallery site for the Chinese public not only to learn more about art, but also to display their work.

Whether their purpose is to challenge government policies and practices or break down cultural barriers, these online artists have used the Internet to facilitate the democratization of mainstream art. Artists have always been an active group in social movements across the world: contributing to calls for collective action, making powerful political statements, and challenging popular beliefs all through creative methods that touch a broad audience.

Now, whether consciously or not, they have changed the way we use the Internet: not simply as a tool for gathering information, but as an expressive space in which people from across different spectrums can combine their passions for art and social change. Ultimately, electronic artists have democratized cyberspace by continuing to perpetuate the relationship between art and activism – using the internet to propel socio-political movements and speak to the global community about the common struggle for freedom of expression.

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