Reclaiming, repairing, and memorializing something through art is a practice that unites all humans. The style may look different, and the canvas may change, but the messages remain the same. Art has the power to bring communities, stories, and traditions together. Here are some ways art has touched our lives and communities, both in recent years and some from long ago.
Art can be used as a means of storytelling and remembrance. We’ve seen it in the murals that appeared throughout the 2020 pandemic and continue today. However, beyond our everyday uses for art, such as therapy, protest, beautification, or affirmation, it has been used throughout history to repair objects, tell stories, and celebrate cultural moments.
In Japan, the art of kintsugi has been used since the early 1600s. This style was about using the power and beauty of art to heal and repair what has been broken. While the art of kintsugi has been around for centuries, the hidden message buried in this ancient art is what we find meaning in. The art of kintsugi, repairing broken teacups with gold, represents the beauty of restoring what has been damaged; and seeing the damage as part of the piece's story. The gold repairs the damage and illuminates that it was once broken; the crack is part of the piece's history.
David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1932, "America Tropical", Los Angeles, CA.
Murals have become a popular form of modern art. However, this isn't the first time in history we've turned to murals to repair and connect with our stories and communities. While it feels as if art has suddenly been popping up all around us, murals have been used since the early 1900s to display their culture and, for some, to make their literal mark on the world. Thinking back to the kintsugi art style, which was used as a literal repair form, we still use art to repair, but the cracks aren’t always so literal.
‘Super Nurse!’ painted as an ‘ode’ to all healthcare professionals around the world. @iamfake/Instagram
We've begun to use art as less of a literal repair and more as a way to heal when words or our world fails us. We've seen art be used as a gesture of thanks to the workers who kept working even while the world paused during the pandemic. Art has also been used to take a stand against intolerance and injustice in our world. Art is a powerful tool because it can help us express things that words cannot.
Mural in Minneapolis, MN by PiM Arts High School Students.
Murals are being used to reclaim culture and community, but they are also being used to reclaim physical space. Having art occupy public space makes people acknowledge it. Another way we have used art to reclaim physical space is through the art style of tattoos. Tattoos can help one reclaim their body, identity, and culture, or in some cases, as a protest against their culture.
Tattoos are considered to be the oldest form of art. Evidence of tattoos dates back over 5,000 years. They were also seen as a controversial art form, but it has become one of the highest forms of self-expression. Charles Darwin once wrote, "There was no country in the world that did not practice tattooing or some form of permanent body decoration.” Culturally and historically, tattoos have been awarded as marks of honor and distinction and used as marks of shame, degradation, or punishment. Because of their somewhat negative history, people are trying to change the narrative around tattoos as a positive form of self-expression.
Through the power of art and the history of art forms, we can use that power to reclaim our bodies, spaces, stories, and cultures. Using art in all its forms to heal and restore is the power of art.
Written by Julia Coulson, restART studio Administrative Assistant
(1) The Compassion Museum. "Compassionate Art".
(2) Discover Los Angeles. “América Tropical: The Story of an LA Icon.”
(3) Yyson Mitman, The Conversation. “Coronavirus murals: inside the world of pandemic-inspired street art.”
(4) Amy Olson, Wellcome Collection. “A brief history of tattoos.”
(5) Ella Tennant, Telegraph India. “How Japanese art form of kintsugi can help navigating failure.”
(6) Ben, Tribe Tattoo Denver.
(7) David Wojnarowicz, The Art Story. “Street and Graffiti Art Movement Overview |TheArtStory.”