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Silent Protest

December 2, 2015

 

Art is often used as a sign of protests and some of the best protests are the simplest. One of those very protests is occurring in Paris right now. The protest is for the United Nation’s Paris Climate Summit and the art is 20,000 shoes.

 

This United Nation’s Climate Summit is seen by many to be the last hope for protecting the earth for future generations. Climate change is an issue that involves the whole world and correspondingly the whole world has an opinion and a voice. Many people see this Summit as the last stop before we cause our world to deteriorate and decay around us.

 

The summit involves 140 important world dignitaries including U.S. President Barack Obama.

 

Since the last discussion at the Copenhagen Climate Summit a mere five years ago the science has gotten even darker and more depressing. That summit ended in a stalemate that was seen by many to be a seal on the death of many low lying island nations like the Maldives.

 

Although the United Nation’s Climate Summit shines a small ray of hope on the earth there are also many of the typical setbacks. The BBC has reported that the opening days have consisted of little progress and a lot of stock phrases such as: “What’s at stake is the future of the planet…” or “think of your grandchildren…”

 

This inactivity is part of the reason that despite the recent terrorist attacks the protests remain strong and firm outside the summit.

 

Many of the protests are centered on art. A group called Artists 4 Paris, for instance, is placing ecologically centered pieces around Paris and the artist Naziha Mestoui illuminated “virtual trees” on the Eiffel Tower.

 

The most interesting protest of all, however, consists of shoes thousands and thousands of donated shoes.

 

200,000 people were expected to march in protest but due to the recent terrorist attacks all official marches have been banned. A strong police presence has made sure that the ban has been enforced through the use of tear gas and sonic bombs. In response to this ban on protests the group called Avaaz has organized a “silent march”. This “silent march” consists of 20,000 shoes laid out in the Place de la République. This protest is such a hot button global issue that famous names such as actress Marion Cotillard, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and Pope Francis have sent their shoes to the protest. As Parisian René Stroh put it “The shoes are marching for us.” Some of the shoes were new some old and still others held messages calling for the abandonment of fossil fuels and other suggestions and pleas on how to avoid the most disastrous impacts of climate change.

 

Although there’s no march the shoes represent the people who would be protesting. In some ways having a silent protest of shoes and not people sends an even more profound message. It sends the message of what could happen if the summit doesn’t make any headway of the lives that could be lost and all of the empty shoes left behind.

 

A “human chain” of activists replaced the shoes around mid-day and stretched down Boulevard Voltaire and up to the Bataclan. The human chain was a way for the people to show their solidarity in a respectful and allowed way. It gave them a way to react without causing undue trouble. Still more artists have added their talents to the protest. A United Kingdom street-art collective Brandalism has taken over around 600 advertising spaces and replaced them with satirical ads. In this way still others are protesting the summit through their art in Paris.

 

All around the world people continue to protest and demand climate action from the United Kingdom and Australia to Mexico and China.

 

In this scenario the art of the simple protest and the art itself has mostly spared the city of Paris from aggravated and violent protests. Through this simple form of art, of merely leaving a shoe or two, people are able to express their anger and protest in a positive way. It is often the case that blood runs hot during protests and that people get carried away and do more damage than good. At least for this protest on this day in this place, art has provided an alternative to that damage. Hopefully more protests and social demonstrations can take a page out of Paris’ book and take a stance and make a change with art and not violence.

 

More information at: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/brandalism-paris-climate-summit-2015-374861 and http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/28646/1/paris-climate-protesters-banned-but-left-10-000-shoes

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