Art of Politics, Politics of Art, A Series By: Jeanette Joy Harris
In this series, Jeanette Joy Harris looks at how artists around the world are using public and participatory art forms to describe, analyze, and influence contemporary politics.
The re-emergence of Silvio Berlusconi in the recent Italian election was protested by FEMEN, the “sextremist” group that uses bare breasts to bring attention to feminist issues. As a piece of political performance art, FEMEN’s action against the infamous lethario is powerful, and representative of how the art world is using exhibition space to demonstrate its concern the future of Italy.
A cocksure Silvio Berlusconi strode into his local polling station on Sunday, March 4th to vote in Italy’s General Election. He had dressed for the occasion. His black suit and sculpted hair was met by photographers who crowded the room as he checked in at tables manned by officials who still use paper ledgers to determine voter eligibility. Berlusconi planned to vote for Forza Italia, the center-right political party he founded in 1993, which maintained dominance during his four-term tenure as Prime Minister. Forza Italia, in alliance with Matteo Salvini’s League Party, hoped to win a majority and oust Matteo Renzi and the Democratic Party.
Berlusconi’s path was suddenly crossed by a bare breasted woman in black pants and heavy boots. With her arms extended defiantly in the air, the woman yelled “Berlusconi, sei scaduto!” (Berlusconi, time’s up!), the same message that was written on her chest. Kicking and screaming the woman was then quickly removed.
Loved and loathed, Berlusconi is a living myth. He started his business career in the 1960s and since that time has built a fortune worth 7.0 billion USD, with most of his wealth attributed to numerous media holdings. His involvement in politics dates to 1994 and he was the longest serving Prime Minister after Benito Mussolini. His political career was beset with scandals, and in the last decade he has been convicted on various charges of tax fraud and bribery. What makes Berlusconi so infamous, though, is not the corruption, but his “bunga bunga” parties, where he would socialize with swarms of beautiful young women, many receiving monetary “gifts” at the end of the night.