Street protests, which were the defining feature of civil and political resistance in 2019, still prevailed in 2020, even as the novel coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China to the rest of the globe. The pandemic further exposed the failures of authoritarian regimes — which were more interested in exploiting the pandemic for power grabs than protecting the lives of their citizens. Braving COVID-19 restrictions and repression, people still took to the streets to make their voices heard. In any struggle for social or political change, art has been a powerful medium of protest and creative expression to expose the deception and social bankruptcy of tyranny. This selection of protest art, curated by HRF’s Art in Protest program, reminds us of just that. Scroll down to see moving works of protest art by artists who committed their talent in 2020 to push for change across 15 countries ruled by authoritarian regimes.

 

  • Algeria

    Up until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Algeria’s leaderless Hirak protest movement, which toppled aging autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019, organized weekly demonstrations to demand the end of the military-backed system ruling the country since its independence in 1962. The regime exploited the pandemic to ban all public gatherings, and cracked down on demonstrations calling for the release of dozens of activists and protesters imprisoned since 2019. Artists have responded to the repression with creative expressions of protest, which are exemplified by the protest song of Chibane celebrating the resiliency of protesters, and illustrations by Salim Zerrouki and El Moustach in support of political prisoners.

  • Salim Zerrouki

    Salim Zerrouki is an illustrator and cartoonist from Algeria. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @salim.zerrouki on Instagram, and visit his website at http://www.salimzerrouki.com/

  • El Moustach

    El Moustach is a poster artist from Algeria. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @el_moustach on Instagram, and visit https://www.facebook.com/elmoustach.dz/

  • Chibane

    Chibane is a singer, songwriter, and composer from Algeria. To hear more of his music, visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKP7JDdYE8eyJrahJF1OG7A

  • Belarus

    The people of Belarus took to the streets demanding freedom and respect for democracy after dictator Alexander Lukashenko rigged elections in August for the fifth time in a row. Despite a brutal crackdown by security forces, including mass arrests, beatings, torture, and the use of live ammunition and excessive force against protesters, Belarusians continue to peacefully protest and demand the resignation of Lukashenko. 


    Artists have played an active role in the protests. Artists such as Ania Redko portray the leading role of women, particularly opposition leaders Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Maria Kolesnikova, while Kastuś Suprac, Lilia Kvatsabaya and Pasha Kritchko document the regime’s brutality and the resilience of the Belarusian people through illustration and photography. Music also played a symbolic role in the election campaign leading up to the protests. Viktor Tsoi’s 1989 song Changes became the anthem of the pro-democracy movement, and two DJs were arrested when they played the song at a pro-Lukashenko rally. Unfortunately, artists, musicians, and vloggers have also suffered under the regime. More than 70 have been detained since the beginning of protests in August, and at least 20 face criminal charges.

  • Ania Redko

    Ania Redko is an illustrator from Belarus. To see more of her artwork, follow her at @ania_redko_ on Instagram.

  • Pasha Kritchko

    Pasha Kritchko is a photographer from Belarus. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @pkritchko on Instagram.

  • Lilia Kvatsabaya

    Lilia Kvatsabaya is a digital artist and photographer from Belarus. To see more of her artwork, follow her at @lilia_kvatsabaya on Instagram.
  • Kastuś Suprac

    Kastuś Suprac is an illustrator from Belarus. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @kastus.suprac on Instagram.
  • Bolivia

    After weeks of protests over rigged elections, Bolivia’s authoritarian leader Evo Morales had stepped down in November 2019, and what followed was a tumultuous year scarred by political turmoil and the coronavirus pandemic. In response to a mounting death toll from COVID-19, the Áñez-led interim government, which was criticized for abusing the justice system to persecute political enemies and stifle dissent, overstepped its mandate and postponed rerun elections twice. In August, anti-Áñez protesters took to the streets to protest the postponement. The general elections were held in October, and saw the landslide victory of Luis Arce from the left-wing Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Within this context, the satirical caricatures of Abel Bellido Córdoba (known as “Abecor") urge for judicial reform, and reflect a longing for a Bolivian society that is not polarized.

  • Abecor

    Abecor is a cartoonist and caricaturist from Bolivia. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @abecoramoarte on Instagram.
  • Egypt

    Egyptian dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime has been unrelenting in its years-long mission to stifle dissent. Rattled by anti-regime protests in September 2019, the regime exploited the coronavirus pandemic to grant el-Sisi new powers to impose bans on public and private gatherings. The crackdown on dissent, which included censoring and jailing numerous artists, hit a grim milestone in May with the death of photographer and music video director Shady Habash in prison. With a vanishing space for free expression and in-person protests largely curtailed, Egyptians, including visual artist Ganzeer and musician Ramy Essam, have taken to social media to protest.

  • Ganzeer

    Ganzeer is a multifaceted visual artist from Egypt. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @ganzeer on Instagram, and visit his website at https://ganzeer.com/
  • Ramy Essam

    Ramy Essam is a musician from Egypt. To learn more about his music, visit his website at https://www.ramyessam.com/
  • Guinea

    Protests against Alpha Condé’s efforts to change the constitution and force a third term in October 2019 continued through 2020. The demonstrations, which were organized by a coalition of opposition parties, civil society groups, and trade unions known as the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), were met with a violent crackdown by the security forces. In March, Condé — resorting to violence, mass arrests, and a government shutdown of internet and social media services — pushed through constitutional amendments in a referendum boycotted by the opposition. In October, Condé, 82, won a controversial third term in presidential elections marred by accusations of fraud. Hip hop artist Djani Alpha released two songs protesting the constitutional amendments and state violence against peaceful protesters.

     

  • Djanii Alfa

    Djanii Alfa (Guinea): Djanii Alfa is a rapper and singer-songwriter from Guinea. To hear his music, visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCn-taVB8ecvYdOMxCPYpeEA
  • Hong Kong

    Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s escalating campaign to chip away at Hong Kong’s autonomy and democracy, Hongkongers continued to express their frustration with the territory’s pro-Beijing government through smaller creative forms of protest, including silent demonstrations, blank post-it notes, and coded slogans hidden in murals. In the online space, art has been a powerful medium of expression and communication for the pro-democracy movement. Iconic artworks such as Harcourt Romanticist's Eugène Delacroix-inspired Our Vantage or Badiucao’s Lennon Wall Flag have become symbols of the protests and were widely circulated on social media and online forums. In 2020, artists such as Joanne Liu, Giraffe Leung and KokDamon continued to use art to protest China’s strangulation of Hong Kong through a draconian national security law, the banning of protest slogans, and the crackdown on pro-democracy leaders.

  • KokDamon

    KokDamon is an illustrator and letter artist from Hong Kong. To see more of their artwork, visit https://www.kokdamon.com/
  • Harcourt Romanticist

    Harcourt Romanticist is an anonymous digital artist from Hong Kong. To see more of their artwork, follow them at @harcourtromanticist on Instagram.
  • Giraffe Leung

    Giraffe Leung is a contemporary artist based in Hong Kong. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @gllh_art on Instagram.
  • Joanne Liu

    Joanne Liu is an illustrator from Hong Kong. To see more of her artwork, follow her at @yunnliu on Instagram.
  • Iran

    The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged Iran on the heels of the regime’s brutal crackdown on the nationwide anti-government protests in November 2019, which were sparked by a rise in fuel prices. The regime’s bungled response to the outbreak — illustrated by deputy foreign minister Iraj Harirchi coughing and sweating while downplaying the pandemic in front of journalists, only to test positive the next day — turned Iran into one of three global hotspots for the pandemic and fueled even more public discontent and mistrust towards the ruling establishment. Fearing a mass revolt, the regime ramped up its repression, imposing death sentences on people involved in the November 2019 protests. The regime’s escalating use of the death penalty against dissidents is a recurring theme of protest, as seen in the work of featured artists Sabokro, Kianoush Ramezan and Mojtaba Heidarpanah.

  • Sabokro

    Mohammad Reza (Sabokro) is an illustrator from Iran. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @sabokro on Instagram.
  • Mojtaba Heidarpanah

    Mojtaba Heidarpanah is a cartoonist and illustrator from Iran. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @mojtaba.heidarpanah on Instagram.
  • Kianoush

    Kianoush is a political cartoonist from Iran. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @kianoush on Instagram.
  • Iraq

    Last year, protests in Iraq forced the resignation of prime minister Adel Abdul Mehdi, but Iraqis have continued to demand an end to unemployment, rampant corruption, Iranian meddling in Iraqi domestic affairs, and deadly violence against protesters. The demands of the Iraqi people are larger than a mere reshuffling of the country’s political leadership — they expect fundamental changes in the existing political system and a rewrite of the Iraqi constitution that currently perpetuates political sectarianism. These grievances have been the themes of murals adorning Baghdad’s streets, such as those by HRF Freedom Fellow Nada Hussein. Meanwhile, exiled Iraqi journalist and comedian Ahmed Albasheer fights for his country with humor. The Albasheer Show, which helped inspire the Iraqi protest movement in 2019, brilliantly lampoons and satirizes corruption and extremism in Iraq.

  • Ahmed Albasheer

    Ahmed Albasheer is a comedian from Iraq. To see more of his comedy, visit https://www.youtube.com/c/albasheershowchannel/
  • Nicaragua

    Daniel Ortega’s repressive regime initially responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by encouraging large-scale public events, ignoring public health prevention measures, punishing health workers for voicing their concerns, and covering up the extent of the crisis. In the absence of responsible response by the regime, activists joined together with doctors to raise awareness of the virus, and many have been working to bring transparency to the dubious COVID-19 figures. In this context, the political cartoons of Pedro X Molina and Manuel Guillen shine a light on the decrepitude of the ruling system.

  • Pedro X. Molina

    Pedro X. Molina is a cartoonist and illustrator from Nicaragua. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @pxmolina on Twitter.
  • Manuel Guillen

    Manuel Guillen is a cartoonist from Nicaragua. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @mguillencartoon on Twitter.
  • Nigeria

    In October, Nigeria experienced the biggest anti-government protest movement in a decade in the country: the EndSARS demonstrations against a long-standing culture of brutal abuse and impunity by the Nigerian police’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). Some of Nigeria’s most well-known global icons of music, including Davido, Tiwa Savage or Falz The Bad Guy, either joined the protests or used their platforms to directly pressure the authorities to heed the demands of demonstrators, while other artists, such as Ash Hamman or Fikky dedicated songs to the demonstrators, reviving a tradition of resistance music pioneered by the legendary musician and activist Fela Kuti. Security forces responded with tear gas, water cannons, and live ammunition, with the worst violence happening in Lagos when soldiers and police opened fire on a sit-in of demonstrators at the Lekki Toll Gate. Under pressure, authorities disbanded the notorious unit and repeated past, unfulfilled promises of police reforms and reparations for victims, while taking retaliatory action against protest leaders and organizers.

  • Alabi Mayowa

    Alabi Mayowa is a digital illustrator from Nigeria. To see more of his artwork, visit https://art635.gallery/artist/mayowa-alabi
  • Fikky

    Fikky is a music artist from Nigeria. Follow him at @fikkyofficial on Twitter and Instagram.
  • Russia

    Vladimir Putin’s regime exploited the coronavirus pandemic in Russia to pass constitutional amendments to increase his powers and secure his rule for life. Putin’s move sparked a fresh round of demonstrations a year after the 2019 protests — the largest since 2012 — in response to the Moscow City Election Commission’s refusal to register independent opposition candidates. The regime also passed new laws imposing prison sentences for spreading “fake news” on the coronavirus or breaking quarantine rules, which it used to arrest and silence critics of the government’s response to the outbreak. As authorities downplayed the outbreak in the country and trumpeted a fast-track COVID-19 vaccine, they faced ongoing opposition and anger from health workers over the inadequacy of PPE and the state of care in hospitals. The political environment in Russia informs the work of Russian artist Artem Loskutov, creator of “Monstrations,” an absurdist form of protest.

  • Artem Loskutov

    Artem Loskutov is a performance artist and an activist from Russia. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @kissmyba on Instagram.

     

  • Sudan

    2020 marked one year since Sudan’s uprising toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir, and the start of a fragile transition in which military leaders of the old regime shared power with a technocratic civilian government within a transitional Sovereignty Council. However, dissatisfaction with the extent and pace of democratic reforms and justice for past abuses fueled ongoing civil discontent. Despite COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, protests over a range of socio-political issues affecting the direction of the country took place across Sudan throughout 2020. For artists and activists who were at the forefront of the revolution in 2019, this first post-revolutionary year offered opportunities to support the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic while continuing to push for change. This is reflected in the works of featured artists Khalid Albaih and the Murals for Martyrs Initiative.

  • Khalid Albaih

    Khalid Albaih is a cartoonist and an activist from Sudan. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @Khalidalbaih on Instagram.
  • The Murals for Martyrs Initiative

    The Murals for Martyrs Initiative is a collective of mural artists from Sudan. To see more of their artwork, visit https://facebook.com/103158777697993
  • Thailand

    Since February, Thai youth have been holding regular demonstrations against the country’s royal and military establishment, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and his cabinet, a holistic revision of the constitution, and reform of the country’s powerful monarchy — an institution the constitution says is “enthroned in a position of revered worship.” In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regime used emergency and cybercrime laws to ban public gatherings and silence critics of its handling of the crisis. The crackdown did not stop thousands of Thais from returning to the streets starting in July, with demonstrators often using creative forms of protest to circumvent harsh lèse-majesté laws and taboos forbidding criticism of the monarchy — such as the defiant three-finger salute borrowed from The Hunger Games and yellow inflatable rubber ducks used as shields against police water cannons. These protest symbols are visible in the works of Bangkok-based artists Pssyppl and Stephffart.

  • Stephff

    Stephff is a cartoonist from Thailand. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @stephffart on Twitter.
  • Pssyppl

    Pssyppl is a digital illustrator from Thailand. To see more of his artwork, follow him @pssyppl on Instagram.
  • Venezuela

    In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro’s regime is weaponizing the coronavirus pandemic to strengthen its hold on power. Opposition leader Miguel Pizarro referred to the combination of Maduro’s consolidation of power and the pandemic as a “crisis within a crisis” — just as Venezuelan illustrator Edo portrays in his artwork. The healthcare system in Venezuela was already in shambles long before the COVID-19 emergency hit the country, with most hospitals lacking running water, electricity, and soap. The pandemic aggravated longstanding and widespread shortages of basic services and necessities and fanned more public anger. Protests in Venezuela peaked in 2016 with more than a million protesters, and then again in early 2019, when Juan Guaidó — the leader of the democratically-elected, opposition-controlled National Assembly — announced plans for a democratic transition. In 2020, hundreds of anti-regime protests took place across the country. The regime responded with violent repression, a theme that artist Juan Toro explores in his photography. 

  • Edo

    Edo is an illustrator from Venezuela. To see more of his artwork, follow him at @edoilustrado on Instagram.
  • Juan Toro

    Juan Toro is a photographer from Venezuela. To learn more, visit https://phmuseum.com/juantoro10/story/fragmentos-34321cd5ed
  • Zimbabwe

    Zimbabwe was already reeling from multiple crises when the coronavirus pandemic hit, including a deepening economic crisis, crippling strikes by public health workers over dire working conditions and mounting anger over deteriorating living conditions and brutal repression. After the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in March, the regime imposed jail sentences of up to 20 years for the publication of fake news about the pandemic, while security forces rounded up and brutalized hundreds of people for violating COVID-19 restrictions, killing at least one person. Ongoing police brutality is the subject of the work of featured artist Lia Brazier’s work, and spurred in August a social media protest campaign called #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. The anguish of Zimbabweans is best captured in Zimdancehall artist Poptain’s song “Freedom” in which he sings: “We never free-ee-e.”

  • Lia Brazier

    Lia Brazier is an illustrator and multi-disciplinary artist from Zimbabwe. To see more of her artwork, visit https://www.liabrazier.com/
  • Poptain

    Poptain is a musical artist from Zimbabwe. To hear more of his music, visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8_CQKa791QtjEMJEvOUx2w