The liberals in Quebec have passed the Bill 78 to stop the student protests against tuition hikes. Students, who have been wearing red squares on their clothes to demonstrate their objection, are now under threat of fines and imprisonment if they participate or encourage protests deemed illegal by the state.
The bill effects all citizens, thus taking away one of the most fundamental rights of the people in a democratic society. The red square is no longer worn by students alone; people of all background and persuasions now show their solidarity by wearing red squares.
The band Arcade Fire backing Mick Jagger on this week’s Saturday Night Live in US, wore red squares in support of the Quebec students. As well, Xavier Dolan brought the red square with him to the Cannes film festival in France. Artists from all over the world have spoken up against the violence and unprompted, unjustifiable use of force exercised by police in cities like Montreal.
Facebook and Twitter profiles are full of red squares, and I cannot help being reminded of Kazimir Malevich and his square series. The Russian painter who profoundly and fundamentally influenced the Abstract artists, and still influences many, set about to change history of painting using an avant-garde approach and eliminating the bourgeois take on art. His Black Square began the idea that art should be felt emotionally, and seeing figures or scenes were just too conformist.
The newly appointed Communist Party at first embraced such revolutionary ideas, because it was a fresh look at art, matching their notion of a new approach to life; however soon, with Stalin coming to power, they saw it as a threat and started banning the avant-garde, favouring instead a Socialist Realism version, where heroes of the revolution were depicted as god-like figures set to inspire the masses.
Kazimir Malevich spent a lifetime being suppressed, but it comforts me to know his Black Square outlasted Stalin’s reign. At Malevich’s funeral, the mourners wore black squares on their clothes in solidarity with freedom in art and now an allegory for freedom in society.
Malevich wrote in 1926: “When, in the year 1913, in my desperate attempt to free art from the ballast of objectivity, I took refuge in the square form and exhibited a picture which consisted of nothing more than a black square on a white field. The critics and, along with them, the public sighed, ‘Everything which we loved was lost. We are in a desert…Before us is nothing but a black square on a white background!’”
“The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason. The face of the new art. The square is a living, regal infant. The first step of pure creation in art.” This tiny black square revolutionised art, and perception of art, inspiring a whole generation of artists, writers, poets and musicians.
It came at a time of change in its birthplace, when people were rising against discrimination and suppression in Tsarist Russia. It had predicted and predated the Russian Revolution of 1917 by two years, however life soon caught up with art and we had one of the most significant uprising of people against inequality in the history of 20th century.
People of Russia were tired of being poor, not having the necessities required for living whilst a few fat cats on top of the food chain basked in the splendour of their riches, adorned by silk and diamonds. So, a revolution was born, and although it turned sour in the end, it managed to awaken a taste for equality in people. A revolution in Art manages the same.
You see, changes in Art start by the artist standing his ground, not scared anymore. The critic bellows a cry to put fear in the artist’s heart, yet he is not afraid anymore. The point of no return has passed. The critics charge forward pen at hand with derogatory words, yet this time the artists are charging toward them with firm steps.
The fear is gnawing at the hearts of the critics now and they have no other option but to use force, so maybe the artists become scared again. However this tactic is in vain. You see, we are social animals, and if anything, evolution has taught us that we managed to survive by being social, by protecting one another in our pack; and here it comes alive within us. Because when we see mighty, corrupt forces mistreating one of our fellow pack members, we become enraged as a society and we seek revenge.
With that first raised fist, a significance change has occurred. A quiet shift so important and vast, it goes undetected by the leaders and critics so engulfed in their self-satisfactory, rickety, smug state of oblivion. But, now it is too late, the leaders once again have lost touch, and people are again on the rise for freedom, and Art is right there with them.