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Social and Ecological Activism in the Visual Arts – lecture series


Admission requirements

No admission requirements for this course.


Throughout history, artists have mobilized their practices to advocate for the causes they believe in, and to protest or disrupt those they oppose. Today’s global challenges and political and social injustices are increasingly complex, making new and unfamiliar demands on the visual arts; and, conversely, inciting activists and organizers of multiple political causes to approach the tools that the visual arts, architecture or design put at their disposal. This is resulting in the experimentation with novel and creative strategies of intervention, advancing forms of activism in the service of social justice through practices informed by both aesthetic and social premises. Some target impoverished visual vocabularies and deceitful narratives, and seek to enrich them with alternative interpretations, scenarios, and imaginaries. Others prioritize the redirection of collective organization, policy making, and pedagogy.

This lecture series charts the contours of the relationship between the visual arts and social and ecological justice activism, looking at how certain tropes and tactics have developed historically but also how their implementation is always situated in their geographical location and cultural context. Students will have the opportunity to gain the knowledge, analytical skills, and methods needed to critically deconstruct and assess a range of cases where the intersecting fields of art, design, and politics take a leading role in the shaping of protest, advocacy, or intervention in a social or political urgency. They will hear these first hand from engaged practitioners themselves as well as study them further through presentations and discussion of key texts and collective projects.

Students will learn how to critically analyze, interpret, and discuss in detail a range of tactics and positions used in the fields of the visual arts, design, and architecture in relation to social protest, critique, and activism. Questions around the artist’s positionality, the perils of artwashing, or the potential of the commons and collectivism to name a few will be approached through myriad and diverse case studies. Working with specialized practitioners and researchers, students will be able to address the global challenges of the 21st century as well as to sharpen and enrich the research process and argumentation.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide the students with insight of historical and contemporary practices that advance social and political transformation, through an array of creative and inventive strategies that stem from the visual arts, design, and architecture to affect the political or vice-versa: how certain structures and tactics of other fields—the legal, political, etc.—are used in artistic practices to renew their potentials and effects. At the same time, students will learn specific concepts and debates operating at the intersections of art, critical and political theory.
Upon completion of the course, the student will have gained: · Knowledge of global visual arts and design practices as they relate to social, political and environmental protest, critique and activism; · Understanding of the historical development and geographical specificity of visual arts and design activism in relation to social and political urgencies; · Knowledge of theories and concepts for deepening understanding of visual arts activism and critique in relation to capitalism and social injustices; · Ability to situate and engage in debates and contribute to academic discourses related to these topics; · Skills necessary to analyze particular case studies from historical, cultural, and visual, perspectives, and to reflect more generally on the social and cultural significance of design and the visual arts in the context of social and ecological justice activism; · Skills in critical thinking, argumentation, substantiation and clear expression (oral and written).

The Social and Ecological Activism in the Visual Arts is a 10 ECTS course, which means there are more readings, assignments, and general preparatory work than you may be used to for a lecture series. You will get the most out of the course if you study the week’s texts well in advance. We therefore advise you to keep a strict planning. Throughout the semester we will offer extra reading materials as well as other relevant materials on Brightspace.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of:

  • Lectures

  • Group discussion of key texts

  • Excursions

  • Self-study

Assessment method


Participation and preparation: Students are requested to prepare the lectures and excursions beforehand, through the literature provided and personal research on the topic, authors, and/or institutions at stake.

Written paper: A critical in-depth reflection on an artistic strategy used to advance a socio-political urgency. The essay should provide an analysis and reflection of a case study, offering a thorough contextualisation and commentary of the strategies and underlying questions / tensions at play. The writing should be informed by the lectures and the literature provided. The length of the written essay should be between 3000 - 4000 words; accompanying the writing with a visual component or experimenting with the format is also possible. The topic of the paper and the format envisioned should be discussed and confirmed with the instructor.

Collective and collaborative final project: Students are asked to organize a collaborative and collective final project to the course following instructions proposed by the instructors. The project should provide an opportunity to the students to test out and negotiate through collective practice different questions and methods explored and discussed throughout the course, as much as mobilize the knowledges and practices of the students. Students will be divided in three groups, and should self-organize towards the preparation of the choreography, materials, props, script, and other elements of the performance. Every two weeks they will have to update the instructors of the advancement of work.


20 % Participation in class and preparation for excursions
40 % Final collective and collaborative project
40 % Written paper


A resit/ rewrite can be done for the final paper (Paper 50%) which is failed. This will be due in January 2023.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Indicative reading list:
Liz McQuiston, Protest!: A history of social and political protest graphics, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2019)
Iris van der Tuin and Nanna Verhoeff, Critical Concepts for the Creative Humanities, (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2022)
T.J. Demos, Beyond the World’s End: Arts of Living at the Crossing, (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020)
Otto van Busch, Making Trouble: Design and Material Activism, (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2022)
Dirk Vis, Research for People Who Would Rather Create (Eindhoven: Onomatopee, 2021)
Boris Groys, On Art Activism (e-Flux journal, Issue #56, June 2014)
Gregory G. Sholette, Dark matter, activist art and the counter-public sphere (
Unlearning Exercises - Art Organizations as Sites for Unlearning, various authors (Valiz, 2018)
Losing Human Form. A Seismic Image of the 1980s in Latin America, Southern Conceptualisms Network (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 2012)
Toward The Not-Yet: Art as Public Practice (Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst, 2021)

Additional texts will be announced at the beginning of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Rogier Schneemann (


For other courses in the domains of music and fine arts, please visit:

Elective courses music and fine arts