Radical design: Creatives at the frontline for change

Bertolt Brecht wrote: ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’

I grew up surrounded by politics. Raised in Iran at the height of its turbulent years, it was impossible not to be. Later, as an adolescent cocooned in the sanctuary of Europe, I rejected it all for I saw my life in the creative world where politics, seemingly, had little relevance.

Now, as Europe peddles into the deep dark waters of dirty politics, as ultra-right populist movements raise their ugly fists, and as we set sail on another turbulent journey that is too close in spirit to one taken by the same Europeans in the 1930s, my world finds itself once again deeply immersed in politics.

For the younger naïve me didn’t quite want to acknowledge that creativity cannot flourish without freedom of expression. And tragically it is this freedom of expression that is under attack by a movement that has no respect for knowledge, fears intellectual thought, has no tolerance for true democratic debate, acts like bullies in the playground with no compassion for others, nor for the environment and therefore ultimately has no appreciation of beauty.

Artist Charlie Morrissey’s ‘Actions from the Encyclopaedia of Experience’ is a speculative taxonomy of actions as part of Siobhan Davies Dance at the Barbican

Artist Charlie Morrissey’s ‘Actions from the Encyclopaedia of Experience’ is a speculative taxonomy of actions as part of Siobhan Davies Dance at the Barbican

We are all feeling the pressure – families are feuding, friends are separating. At two recent gallery openings here in London – Tate Modern Switch House and Design Museum – the speeches were centred firmly around politics. This would certainly not have been the case a few years ago. The creative world feels under attack, marginalised by a system that sees the arts at its best ‘soft’ and at its worst the enemy.

Art has always had the potential to make strong visual political statements. Now, progressive design can be an even more powerful rebellion. We have urgent concerns – with the environment, movement of people, displaced populations, mass urbanisation – and it is the job of the creative community to rise-up and challenge politicians by being revolutionary, finding real solutions for real issues not just re-creating objects of desire. Whether traditionalists and nationalists like it or not, the world has evolved, and is about to even more.

Some of the most exciting design movements, including Bauhaus, appeared at a similar time in history when the world order was changing. Now too designers have the chance to be at the forefront of a dialogue for progress. Politics has re-entered my world and I am thoroughly enjoying its return.

Nargess Banks

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