Subversion as a Resistance Strategy in Artistic Activism

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The contemporary art world is characterized by precarious and intermittent forms of employ-ment such as subcontracting and freelancing. Non-paid work is also common in the arts sector either in the form of internships or uncompensated exhibiting, writing and curating. In this article we analyse subversion in the context of artistic activism as a resistance strategy against labour relations within contemporary capitalism. As a case study, we present a critical analysis of two works by artist Joshua Schwebel, Subsidy (2015)and Médiation Culturelle (2017-2018), which aimed to take advantage of the institutional exhibition context to not only raise awareness about hidden aspects of labour prac-tices common among art institutions but also to create real change and empower workers. Taking into account capitalism’s adaptability and its undermining of traditional forms of resistance, we argue that artistic activism plays a crucial role in pursuing counter-hegemonic struggle. By analysing and compar-ing both projects we have concluded that subversion is used as the broader strategy, whereas disruption, dialogue and displacement are used as tactics. This research also establishes context as a fundamental element for artistic activism works and the necessity to adapt strategies to maximize possibilities of achieving social transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-408
Number of pages19
JournalArte, Individuo y Sociedad
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2023


  • Artistic activism
  • Resistance
  • Labour
  • Institutional critique
  • Subversion.


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