‘Creating’ Controversy: 5 Boundary-pushing Artists you Should know About

Good art does not only satisfy the eyes, it stimulates the mind as well. But, who defines which art is good and which is bad? Since our perception of good and bad is highly subjective, very often powerful pieces of art are termed controversial or sub-standard. However, one cannot deny the ripples created by a powerful piece of art. When this happens, it matters not what society thinks about the artwork or artist, because the artwork has clawed a space for itself in our consciousness. Here are some artists who’ve succeeded in doing this repeatedly and even though not all of us will love their work, we cannot deny the power and boldness of their creations.

Guerrilla Girls

Although the name sounds pretty fierce, the get-up of these girls is quite humorous. Whenever in public, members of the group unfailingly sport a large Gorilla head for a mask to conceal their identities. This ploy, they say, protects them from being targeted by aggressive critics and also lightens things up by providing a dose of humor. The issues their fighting against, however, are of serious importance. Through interviews, art works and awareness campaigns, they highlight sexist and racist biases that permeate the art world. In the past, their campaigns have helped draw attention towards discrepancies in the number of works of male and female artists displayed in museums. Their keen eye also keeps watch on similar biases in Hollywood and theatre.

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Tracey Emin

An artist who never fails to scandalize viewers, whether through her artwork or interviews, Tracey has always believed in portraying the most honest version of her life and self. Her artwork is confessional and autobiographical and doesn’t shy away from exploring subjects that are controversial and considered taboo. Her works like ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With’ and ‘My Bed’ explore the role of personal experience in creating art. Both projects reveal intimate details about the artist’s life and invite the viewer to form relatable connections with the artist through these brutally honest pieces of art.

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Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe was one of the most shocking photographers of our time. His work impacts current sensibilities in the manner that Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde impacted viewers in the 1860s. Robert’s photography was controversial and explicit. His photographic oeuvre explored and questioned conventional notions of gender, sex and morality. His bold depiction of homosexuality has done much for gay liberation. But, apart from willfully courting controversy to draw attention to issues, Robert is also known for his keen sense of light and form which helped him create interesting compositions. He has photographed some of the most renowned artists, musicians and actors of his time.

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Marc Quinn

Marc Quinn is a sculptor and visual artist. His work is shocking because he uses unconventional materials for building his sculptures, which include blood, ice and feces. His most scandalizing sculpture is titled ‘Self’ which is actually a self-portrait made using nine litres of his own blood. The blood was extracted over a period of nine months and the sculpture is maintained in a refrigeration unit. He creates such a sculpture every five years and hope that these ‘bloody’ creations of his reminds the viewer of the frailty of existence.

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Damien Hirst

A lot of this artist’s work explores the theme of death. He is known to dissect and preserve animals to explore this theme of brevity of life. He has preserved a sheep, cow and shark in formaldehyde. His most talked about work remains ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ which sees a 14-ft long Tiger shark suspended mid-tank in a solution of formaldehyde. The artwork is said to explore the concepts of death and memory. The solution, which will eventually degrade the shark’s body is very much like our memory. Eventually, it fades and no matter how much we try to preserve our body or the memory of our existence, our bodies and even the memory of our existence will cease to exist after a period of time.

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