Art is a powerful form of nonviolent protest in any struggle for social or political change. For more than half of the world’s population living under authoritarian regimes, art provides an essential outlet for self-expression. 

 

Scroll down to see a selection of protest art inspired by major protest movements in countries under authoritarian rule since 2019. This running collection, curated by HRF’s Art in Protest program, reminds us of the power of art to expose the deception and social bankruptcy of tyranny.

 

  • Algeria

    In 2019, Algeria experienced the most significant non-violent political mass movement since independence: a protest movement demanding radical change and the end of the military-backed system ruling the country since 1962. Known as Hirak, the pro-democracy movement succeeded in forcing longtime autocrat Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after twenty years in power, but the ruling military-backed regime has responded to protests and demands for change with repression. Algerians have shown defiance and determination in pursuing their demands and artists have been at the forefront of the movement. Here, musician Chibane’s protest song celebrates the resiliency of protesters while Salim Zerrouki and El Moustach’s illustrations lend support to high-profile 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

    Since 2020, the people of Belarus have taken to the streets to demand freedom and respect for democracy after dictator Alexander Lukashenko rigged elections 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 have continued to peacefully protest and demand the resignation of Lukashenko. The pro-democracy movement has been buoyed by a large volume of protest art. Among the themes explored by featured artists Ania Redko, Maria Kolesnikova, Kastuś Suprac, Lilia Kvatsabaya and Pasha Kritchko are the leading role of women, the regime’s brutality and the resilience of the Belarusian people. 

     

  • 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

    Bolivia’s authoritarian leader Evo Morales was forced to resign in November 2019, after weeks of protests over rigged elections. What followed was a tumultuous period scarred by political turmoil. In the wake of Morales’ departure, acting president Jeanine Áñez, whose administration was criticized for abusing the justice system to persecute political enemies, overstepped her mandate and maneuvered to assume the presidency by postponing elections. Luis Arce—member of Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party—was elected president in October 2020. Amid an atmosphere of mistrust and polarization, a fragile peace reigns in Bolivia. Within this context, the satirical caricatures of Abel Bellido Córdoba (known as “Abecor") urge for judicial reform, and reflect a longing for a unified Bolivian society.

  • Abecor

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

    After a decade-long experiment in democracy, Burma’s military seized back control from the civilian government in February 2021, and declared a state of emergency for a year. Previously, the country had been ruled by the military junta from 1962 until 2011. Since the military takeover, protesters have taken to the streets, waving the three-finger salute as an emblem of resistance, while activists and workers have staged civil disobedience campaigns and strikes to demand a return to democratic rule. In response, the junta has waged a brutal campaign of repression, detaining, beating and killing hundreds of people, imposing curfews and shutting down the Internet. Among the creatives who have expressed the defiance of the Burmese people through art is KueCool, the first woman graffiti artist in Burma. Currently based in Yangon, KueCool is peacefully and powerfully dissenting against the military coup, while creating illustrations as a door to freedom.

     

  • KueCool

    KueCool is a designer & illustrator from Burma. To see more of her artwork, follow her at @kuecool on Instagram.
  • Egypt

    Dictator Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime has been leading the worst political repression in Egypt’s modern history. Dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and artists have been forcibly disappeared, tortured, or imprisoned on politically motivated charges. For artists, the crackdown hit a grim milestone in May 2020 with the death of photographer and music video director Shady Habash in Tora Prison. Egyptian artists in exile, such as featured artists Ganzeer and Ramy Essam, have been the rare voices of 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

    Guinea experienced a sustained protest movement between October 2019 and 2020 in opposition to authoritarian leader Alpha Condé’s efforts to change the constitution and force a third term. 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 2020, 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. Later that year, Condé, aged 82, won a controversial third term in presidential elections marred by accusations of fraud. In response, 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

    Protest art has been an essential medium of expression and communication of Hong Kong’s protest movement, which began in 2019 against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s push to pass a controversial extradition law. For example, iconic artworks such as Harcourt Romanticist’s painting Liberty Leading the People or Badiucao’s Lennon Wall Flag have become symbols of the protests and were widely circulated widely on social media and online forums. The passage in 2020 of a draconian national security law curtailed freedom of expression and large-scale public protests by banning protest slogans, among other things, but Hongkongers continue to engage in creative and alternative smaller forms of protests, including silent demonstrations, blank post-it notes, and coded slogans hidden in murals. 

  • 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

    In November 2019, the Iranian regime brutally cracked down on the nationwide anti-government protests which were sparked by a rise in fuel prices. In spite of the regime’s attempt to stifle all forms of dissent, public discontent as well as mistrust towards the ruling establishment have only grown stronger. 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

    In 2019, 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. 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

    Since coming to power in the mid 2000s, Daniel Ortega and his FSLN party have steadily eroded democratic institutions in Nicaragua. This path was tragically accelerated in 2018, when a massive protest movement was brutally repressed, leading to hundreds of deaths and the persecution of any dissenting voices. In 2020, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic was met with denial, ineptitude, and continued repression, as the regime tried to silence anyone who questions the government’s official narrative on the handling of the crisis. It is in the context of Ortega’s unflinching authoritarian rule that the political cartoons of Pedro X Molina and Manuel Guillen shine a light on the decrepitude of the regime.

  • 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

    Nigeria experienced the biggest anti-government protest movement in a decade in the country in 2020: 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 announced the disbanding of the notorious unit and repeated past, unfulfilled promises of police reforms. However, they also took 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

    In 2020, Vladimir Putin’s regime exploited the coronavirus pandemic in Russia to pass constitutional amendments to increase his powers and secure his rule for life, sparking a wave of demonstrations. In early 2021, the arrest of Kremlin critic and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny and the release of his investigative documentary on Putin’s alleged luxury Black Sea palace triggered a fresh wave of nationwide anti-Putin demonstrations. Prominent artists such as Pussy Riot and Tima Radya were among thousands who were detained in the demonstrations. Many artists have also spoken out through their work. Featured here are the works of performance artist Artem Loskutov, , creator of “Monstrations,” an absurdist form of protest, and a viral satirical video of Andrei Ceausescu lampooning a room in Putin's palace referred to in Navalny's video as an “aqua disco.” 

  • 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

    Sudan’s uprising toppled dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019, and the country has been undergoing a fragile transition in which military leaders of the old regime shared power with a technocratic civilian government within a transitional Sovereignty Council. Dissatisfaction with the extent and pace of democratic reforms and justice for past abuses have continued to fuel civil discontent: Throughout 2020, protests over a range of socio-political issues affecting the direction of the country took place across Sudan. For artists and activists who were at the forefront of the revolution in 2019, this first post-revolutionary year offered opportunities to continue pushing 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

    In 2020, Thailand experienced the country’s largest anti-government protests in a decade. Thai youth have held 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 spite of the military regime’s attempts at silencing protests and a culture of impunity for crimes committed against activists, thousands of Thais have been on the streets, 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

    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 — claimed the interim presidency based on Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution, arguing that Maduro had usurped the powers of his office by tampering with constitutional and electoral tools. In 2020, hundreds of anti-regime protests once again took place across the country. Venezuelans protested against the rampant corruption of the Maduro regime and the ongoing humanitarian crisis that the country is in, where 90% of Venezuelans are living below the poverty line and lack sufficient access to food and medical supplies - a reality that is always downplayed or outright denied by Maduro himself. The regime’s ruthless repression of the protests is 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

    Since coming to power in 2017 on the heels of a military coup deposing his mentor, late dictator Robert Mugabe, Emmerson Mnangagwa has steered Zimbabwe deeper and deeper into more brutal repression. Mounting anger over Zimbabwe’s deepening economic crisis, deteriorating living conditions and a spate of abductions of government critics have fueled strikes and demonstrations which are systematically and violently dispersed. The works of featured artists are informed by these issues: Lia Brazier decries police brutality while Zimdancehall artist Poptain sings “We never free-ee-e” in a song called “Freedom.”

  • 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