Art has the ability to intersect, transgress, and connect with global political landscapes. Political imaginations too, are built on the circulation of mass media; images, texts, and public performances by politicians and civilians enable people to think through social, political and economic issues in interactive and mobile displays. The role of the artist, because of mass media and technology, and new forms of social interaction, has moved from a distinct role and disseminated into the everyday mobile and social media user.

The everyday person now has the available tools to be artists themselves, and to be able to orchestrate their own visual narrations of ideologies and events. Particularly in contemporary political periods, the easy access and constant availability for a public audience to an individual’s documentation or interpretation of an event rouses a new way of coming to understand ourselves and the world around us.

Mass media is a political, as well as social tool, which allows everyone to engage in producing their own visual retrospective. Widely circulated images of the Westminster attack condemning a Muslim woman for not appearing ‘sympathetic enough’ feeds into a larger rhetoric of anti-Muslim, pro-UKIP mantras, which only serves to exacerbate regressive and ignorant views. Documentary footage of bodies pulled from the Mediterranean, of absolute terror in Palestine, and of live streams of attacks on women on Facebook too contributes to our visual understanding and communication of tragedy, loss, and political apathy. These images and videos construct and guide how we all experience these events, and in turn what events we have insight into, and on what side of the political spectrum.

Civilian artists are able to reach audiences from the other side of the world and share other people’s immediate experiences, regardless of how traumatic, without ever having to fully realise it themselves. So too, the mobile-user may not be fully aware of particular political tropes and beliefs they are exacerbating in the time-of-Trumps. The Internet has made earth the size of a screen, but with easy dissemination and recordings, political borders can often become reinforced with racist ideologies garnering a captive following. Although everyday-art and social media enables new forms of global transparency, it has also made it clear that the current political climate is one of racism and sexism. In response, many social media users are using said platforms to empower and educate. But, when those benefitting from racialised and gendered exploitation are in control of the media-outlets that inform general political imaginations, progression and tolerance is rarely promoted.

The use of visual art online in order to narrative a particular story needs to be within a cultural partnership of tolerance and acceptance. Social media has a huge influence, but the difference between an artist and a user, is that the former intends to engage and reflect. The user can simply be regurgitating mainstream rhetoric, feeding overarching structures of traditional politics, and intending to outrage instead of meaningfully exploring contemporary political tragedies. Art in its online form is core to modern society and is fundamental in building a wider perception and understanding of the world. Artists, regardless of whether it is a profession, hobby, or accidental role, as is the case with many social media accounts, have the power to challenge the status quo particularly online. The work produced here can make a real impact as the Internet is used a primary source for information and education. This can happen positively by welcoming progression, rather than echoing previous downfalls of humanity.

Social media is now one of the most raw forms of conveying a message through images; rarely unfiltered, largely public, the posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube serves as a primary way of forming the self and interacting with larger societal and political issues in a direct and visual way. Artists and users alike must take responsibility to act, promote and curate their political engagement with consideration and not to support regressive attitudes that structure the inequalities so pervasive in our current climate. Virtual space may seem abstract, like it exists millions of miles away, but at that exact, vague point, the images that conduct an entire political narration here have the potency to impact those who are felt to be so distant. 



Beth Cloughton