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What happens when art meets politics?

Grayson Perry has recently designed a bag for the Labour party. Those words may seem somewhat incongruous- why should a political party need a range of accessories? – and yet it is true. The bag, featuring Perry’s print design, could be ordered following a donation to the Labour party of a minimum of £19, simultaneously bringing funds into the party and creating an eye-catching, conversation-starting piece that shows support for the cause.

The original lion, auctioned off to raise funds for Labour

The original lion, auctioned off to raise funds for Labour

Perry’s lion design was originally carved in ceramic and auctioned off, raising £42,000 of funds. A second, ‘Unfashionable Lion,’ was also auctioned to raise money for London College of Fashion scholarships; clearly Perry is no stranger to using his work for philanthropic causes. Now, though, the lion design has hit the mainstream, being printed on something affordable, useable, and, despite being limited edition, still much more everyday than the original ceramic.

The design itself is gorgeous, an intricate and detailed print, very elaborate, very extravagant, and very Grayson Perry. It certainly intrigues; it is so far removed from what we usually see the Labour party doing that it cannot fail to start a conversation. As an artwork, Perry’s piece is fabulous.

But should popular artists get involved with politics? As voting members of the community, artists like Perry do of course have the right to express their political opinion. TV personalities, celebrities, and even just people with a lot of Twitter followers use every chance they can get to share their political views, so why shouldn’t Perry take advantage of his skills and use his art as a way to help his political cause?

In this painting, Putin battles the horses of corruption.

In this painting, Putin battles the horses of corruption.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that art has come to the aid of politicians: in Autumn, none other than Vladimir Putin commissioned his own series of artworks demonstrating his own political prowess. ‘The 12 Labours of Putin,’ as they are called, follow the model of the Herculean Labours, depicting Putin fulfilling tasks such as battling the multi-headed hydra of Western sanctions, or carrying peace in Ukraine to safety. While it’s hard for an outsider not to laugh at these images, it is understandable that in a nation where such a cult of personality has been built up around the leader, artwork depicting Putin as the hero of the hour is very apt.

As a skeptical Brit, I find it difficult to take ‘The 12 Labours of Putin’ seriously; however, I can understand their importance on the Russian political stage. For Putin, ensuring that his people regard him as superior to them in every way is crucial to his political power, and these images, with him portrayed similar to Hercules, conjure up ideas of Putin as a kind of demi-god, sent to save his people. As a part of Putin’s publicity campaign, it works very well indeed.

With regard’s to Labour’s move into the world of art, I am equally skeptical. Firstly, the concept of producing something limited edition seems rather against Labour’s principles in general. Furthermore, it is so obviously the desperate attempts of a party very much in danger of losing favour before the next election to try and regain a bit of popularity that I, as with Putin, am struggling to take it seriously. The political skeptic in me raises an eyebrow at Perry’s lion, and wonders whether a piece by such an avant-garde artist as Perry is really in touch with the Labour Party’s roots. The arts editor in me, however, can’t help but get very excited at the prospect of more of this fascinating artist’s work finding its way into daily life. Perry is a really exciting artist, and in my opinion, the more of his work that hits the mainstream the better.

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