Art and Politics: The Cunning Compatibility?

In every society, art and politics do not always move along too well. While in some political circumstances art is considered as a tool for achieving certain political strategies, in other instances, art is viewed as an enemy of State (government). This is for two obvious reasons. The first reason is that, political activities like campaigns, rallies and other similar events make use of art forms like posters, printing of t-shirts, banners, bill boards etc, to achieve the maximum results in the set goals of such events. In this way, art is not just seen as tool for achieving political ends but also as a pure friend of politics because without it (art) politics would find it tough in expressing or communicating its interest to the public (masses) in a manner that would be easily understood. For example, the images of political aspirants made available in visual forms like posters and bill-boards bring the contestants closer to the people and also make the people to know those they are supporting even though such people, in most cases, never have the opportunity of meeting the aspirants one-on-one before elections.

Given this scenario, it is common for a person, group or community to identify with a political aspirant (aspiring for gubernatorial, presidential or senatorial positions) by simply wearing a printed cap or t-shirt with the image of the aspirant (in the case of an individual); or mounting a bill-board at the entrance of a community or at strategic locations within the capital city or its metropolis. In this way, art did not only provide a conducive link between the people (masses) and those seeking for political offices, but also provides channels under which the aspirants express their interest to the public during election's season. All these make art a good friend to politics.

The second reason is somehow contrary to the first one discussed above. This is because when artists produced works that do not speak well of the policies of an existing government, political leaders consider art an enemy. For example, the cartoons in the newspaper dailies or other periodical publications draw on critical issues that affect the masses which government is refusing to give attention to. A cartoon drawn to ignite or provoke one's thought on the issue of resource control in the Niger Delta, for instance, will depict leaders robust and healthy while the suffering masses would be portrayed in helpless and poverty stricken conditions. The images would be satirically represented to amuse and yet draw attention to an issue of critical need to the society. Political leaders in the helm of affairs do consider such cartoons or art works as a set up to sabotage their governments or regimes. Instead of considering such art forms as visual commentaries on the need to address or correct the ills in the society by formulating, implementing as well as actualizing good / workable policies for the benefit of the suffering masses, they view them (such art forms) in the other way round.

Considering the two opposite sides presented above, art and politics are intermittently in conflict. This is because, where genuine art practice thrives, political leaders do not find it easy to manipulate or cheat the suffering masses without art leaking their (politicians') evil plans / secrets. This is likely to be the reason why most governments or political regimes undermine the art sector for fear of not being used against it. In view of that, cultural policies which could bring a positive turn-around as well as foster the growth and development of art in a nation are either frustrated or given no attention. This is practically unhealthy not only for the progress of art but also for the entire cultural development of a region. Art is an important element of culture and if it suffers, the culture of that region would also suffer irrecoverably.

Therefore, if art is important such that it can use as strong tool or medium for achieving political aims in events like political campaigns and party rallies (to mention just a few), it should be given appropriate recognition by political leaders who have the power to speed its growth through meaningful policies.