Art and Activism

Creativity and Performance
as Subversive Forms of Political Expression
in Super-Diverse Cities

Super-diversity, creativity and political expression

Artistic expression represents an original way to show political criticism and demand for civil rights. But how do citizens use art in activism or activism in art to create multiple forms of resistance?
This project explores new artistic forms of political expression in multicultural cities, in times of crisis and/or in oppressive conditions. Prof. Salzbrunn and her team focus on a broad range of artistic tools, styles, and means of expression such as festive events and parades, cartoons and comics, and street art.
The methodology is based on multisensory ethnographic research including film-making and drawing in three principal urban settings on three continents.

1. Europe: Italian and French towns with a strong tradition in Carnival parades and carnivalesque style figures (masquerade, détournement) in political demonstrations.
2. Africa: gateway cities in Cameroon with creative and satirical comic art.
3. North-America: Latino immigrant cities in California (US) with powerful mural paintings.
Building on urban studies, migration studies, and the anthropology of art, Prof. Salzbrunn and her team aim to understand how social actors engage artistically in order to trigger social, economic and political change.


Carnivals & Carnavalesque

Comics & Cartoons

Mural Art


Exploring new artistic forms of political expressions in multicultural cities, the team-project ARTIVISM questions artistic resistance in times of crisis and/or in oppressive conditions. ARTIVISM seeks to understand how social actors engage artistically in order to bring about social, economic and political changes.

One of the objectives is to bring together methodological knowledge from the fields of anthropology, art and performance studies in order to develop innovative audio-visual methods in the study of artivism. We will notably analyse different types of performative acts that engage the body, the senses (smell, sight, touch and taste), emotions, artefacts and technical media. Furthermore, we will contribute to the advancement of critical anthropological theory in the fields of political and cultural anthropology as well as migration and diversity studies by developing situational analysis, taking into account social stratification and class issues (which lost visibility after the cultural turn).

Theoretical framework

Bringing innovative new methods to actualize the core concepts of performativity and liminality, ARTIVISM introduces a multi-faceted trans-disciplinary approach that responds to a postmodern type of fluid and temporary social action. Our epistemological approach is inspired by the multi-disciplinary perspectives on the study of performances, and by Erika Fischer-Lichte’s and Judith Butler’s multi-dimensional approach to the analysis of cultural performances and their transformative power (the liminal or sublime) on stage, on the street, in comics, in public and media, on individuals and collectives. Articulating performance studies, street anthropology and the sociology of celebration with migration and diversity studies, ARTIVISM challenges former concepts which took stable social groups for granted and reified them with ethnic lenses.


The epistemological shift from Clifford Geertz’s “culture as text” to Erika Fischer-Lichte’s “culture as performance” calls for a new methodological framework to fully grasp and reproduce the multisensory fieldwork experience of artistic (and cultural) performances. The applied methodology renews the field by bringing together event-, actor- and condition-centred approaches with a multi-sensory framework.

Going beyond former research in urban and migration studies, and beyond the anthropology of art, ARTIVISM considers a broad range of artistic tools, styles and means of expression concentrating on festive events and parades, cartoons, comics and street art. The international team of research will combine audio-visual ethnography, urban event ethnography, street ethnography, Sarah Pink’s methods of sensory ethnography, apprenticeship as well as Monika Salzbrunn’s concept of field-crossing.

Presentation film