Nonviolent Direct Art (NDA)

My last post ended with the possibility of considering the use of artistic and social practices as a way to engage in nonviolent direct action; specifically referencing the concept from the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. I have chosen to use this term because when it is in reference to groups that were marching, intervening and resisting the normalized way of life at the time, (this was during the 1960’s). I’ve attempted to alter this term to a concept that I believe reflects its use in social and political settings today; let’s now refer to it as nonviolent direct art or NDA. 

In just one moment I will further my thoughts about NDA, first I must clarify my use of the acronym, as it could also be construed as a non-disclosure agreement. This is not the definition when used here, although the similarities are incredible as the purpose for both would be to resolve conflict or the possibility of conflict. Here is where NDA differs, when referred to as a non-disclosure agreement it creates a confidential relationship between parties, typically to protect one or both parties. When used as nonviolent direct art, it acquires characteristics that “impose a “creative tension””1 which then “illustrates the injustice it seeks to correct”2. This definition of NDA is a result of an emergence from the “grey space.”

To quickly recapitulate the “grey space”, a concept drawn from my previous post, it is a visual overlap of Black and White when referencing the color of human skin as it relates to equality and acts of justice or injustice. From the recognition of this space, one comes to view the world as if wearing lenses that can be shifted between justice and injustice, much of it’s side effects cause NDA, nonviolent direct art.  

If I may be quite honest with you, this is a very new concept, and by new, I do mean this is the first time it is being written on paper or rather on computer. Not that the actions have not before been seen, rather the term in reference to the form of action art and social practice is new in relation to the gesture. 

Here is what I mean: The scenario below describes an experience I had during my study in Italy. The sound work following it is a clip from the hour long artwork that is being described. My reflection of the work is what I am referring to as nonviolent direct art; it seems that once I became aware of the “grey space” I was then able to understand how art contributed to bring attention to specific injustices with the hope of change. 

Scenario:

February 2019, Florence, Italy. Le Murate Art District.

Karyn Olivier’s work is on view. 

“Because Time in This Place Does Not Obey An Order”

It’s about protest, unfit living conditions, oppressive forces.

It’s about separation, social groups, spirituality, and contemplation in isolation. 

It’s about feeling.

Feeling enclosed in one room, with four columns, and a man made garden.

Centered with lemon trees searching for sunlight although visibly invisible. 

An almost hidden door, leading to solitary confinement.

They kept the worst of them there, the ones who needed more security.

The one’s touch by blank walls, and unsharpened pencils.

Now the walls stayed untouched.

No hired painters. 

Gentrifiers. 

History erasers.

Only floors that wreaked of metal chains holding on to ragged feet.

Battered bodies.

And the resounding voice of a woman speaking solemnly.

Her voice was steady.

Her message, unjust.

Clip from Karyn Oliver’s, “Because Time in This Place Does Not Obey An Order”, 2019
Recording of Antonella Bundu reading the Letter from Birmingham Jail by MLK in Italian

MLK’s words transported through dimensions.

We sat in a monastery.

We sat in a Birmingham jail cell.

We sat in the answers for the future while hearing them be dictated by the past.

And then we knew.

Knew we could forever be stuck in this mental jail.

Looping a recording of the struggle.

Struggling to transcend time.

Timing our actions.

For “when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell”3 what else must you do then make nonviolent direct art?


This range of thought may seemingly have nothing to do with Louis Armstrong, his music or the museum. Only I believe that if living today, he would want his recorded words, music, legacy to be used to make artworks that “impose a “creative tension”” with hope to “illustrate the injustice it seeks to correct”. In my next post, I will attempt to use archival material to formulate a nonviolent direct art piece.

1 King Institute, Stanford University

2 King Institute, Stanford University

3 Martin Luther King Jr, 1963, Okra.Stanford.Edu

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