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Resistance isn't always visible, but when we can see it in art, what does it look like? Step back through global art history and look at Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People, Night Attack on the Sanjô Palace, Henry Oscar One Bull’s Custer’s War, Goya's Disasters of War, and Kara Walker's Darkytown Rebellion. Each revealing in disparate ways the experience of those who have struggled against systems of power.

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It's been said that history is written by the victors and when it comes to art history, you can find plenty of victors solidifying and furthering their power through art, architecture, and culture.  History writing is often in the hands of the powerful, or at least the literate, because it's not just about who's still alive to tell their story, it's about who has the ability to communicate, to train to be an artist or artisan, or access the material and time it takes to make things that have the chance of surviving for millennia, but in the way of all truisms, it's not all true.  We can find ample proof of those who have struggled against systems of power and oppression.  

People have represented or revealed these experiences through the objects they've made, which reach across time to tell us remarkable tales of courage, defiance, and also devastation.  When we can see resistance in art, what does it look like and what has it looked like over time?  This is the third of five videos focusing on a much discussed aspect of life today and looking back to see how people from the past have made objects and artworks that speak to it in some way.  This is art about resistance.  

Sometimes resistance is easy to see, especially when it takes the form of actual combat and violence.  Take the well-known painting "Liberty Leading the People" by Eugene Delacroix that pictures the July revolution in France.  Not only does it depict an event from 1830, but it was painted in 1830, begun in the months after it happened when it was still fresh in the news.  In it, we see the central figure of Liberty, holding a musket and the tri-color flag of the revolutionaries who would successfully oust King Charles X for his violation of the Constitution and replace him with the so-called citizen king, Louis-Philippe I.  Liberty here isn't a real person, of course, but a symbolic one, shown in profile and nude to the waist, to call back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who first championed democracy.

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She wears a (?~2:02) cap, the kind given to freed slaves in ancient Rome to indicate their liberated status, and which by this point was a potent marker of freedom.  While her presence is allegorical, or representing an ideal, the rest of the scene is based in grisly reality, so much so that critics at the time rejected it for being too realistic.  Liberty leads a charge atop a barricade strewn with bodies of the dead and wounded.  We see a boy who has joined the fight, wielding pistols and wearing a black velvet beret that identifies him as a student.  We know we're in Paris because you can see Notre Dame in the distance, claimed by the revolutionaries with the world's tiniest tri-color flag raised atop it.  Two fighters on the left follow Liberty's lead, one a factory worker in his apron and the other a top-hatted bourgeois fellow holding his hunting shotgun, telling us that this was a fight for the shared ideals of not just one people, but the people, regardless of economic status.

Delacroix witnessed the uprising and was compelled to portray it at a very large scale, unusual at a time when monumental paintings almost always told stories of the distant past.  He supported the revolution despite the fact that King Charles X not only admired but collected Delacroix's work and the artist depended on commissions from both royals and royalists.  In this work, Delacroix reveals his commitment to the cause of Liberty and deep respect for his fellow citizens who had taken up arms in its name.

His romantic style concerned with showing the intensity and drama of human emotion lends itself to the chaotic subject matter at hand.  While painting it, the artist wrote to his brother, "I may not have fought for my country.  At least I shall have painted for her."  The struggle to establish a republic in France was far from over.  These events only prelude to the June rebellion of 1832, made famous by Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables.

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