Provocative Art for me is an art form that provokes the emotions, feelings and thoughts of the viewer. Now the question that would be asked is, isn’t every art form provocative art because every art piece somehow or the other provokes and questions our thoughts, beliefs etc. So in a way, all art becomes provocative art. But what has to be understood is that by the term ‘provocative’, it does not have to be nudity or sexual elements always. This brings me to the American provocative artist and sculptor, Barton Lidice Benes, who passed away on 30th May of this year at the age of 69 due to AIDS.
Barton Lidice Benes- the famous provocative artist and scultpor
Photo by Joan Hall
As mentioned above Barton Lidice Benes was a provocative artist and sculptor who used materials what he called the artifacts of ‘everyday’ life. He entered the art scene during the 80’s with his shredded currency collage art work of Virgin Mary. From shredded pices of currencies and other recycled materials, he went more personal with his art when he was tested HIV positive in 1986. He started working on everyday materials of the epidemic – pills, human cremated remains etc. His works were controversial and many art galleries were not ready to showcase his works. One of his works called ‘Brenda’ is of 200 AIDS ribbons which were mounted on a wall after being slathered with the paste made from the ashes of his friend Brenda who died of AIDS.
“Brenda” consists of 200 4″ high ribbons, modeled after the iconic red ribbon representing AIDS awareness. But these ribbons are stiff and gray, encrusted with his friend Brenda’s cremains, and mounted in solemn rows on a wall.
He also made a gigantic hour glass which had the ashes of two of his friends who died of AIDS, the art work spreading the message ‘time is running out’.
Hour Glass by Barton Lidice Benes combines the ashes of two of his close friends, James Barden and Noel McBean, who died of AIDS-related causes within a few months of each other in 1995. James and Noel participated in discussions with Benes about the piece before their deaths, after seeing an earlier piece, titled Brenda, which consisted of iconic ribbons coated in Brenda’s ashes. The grey ashes within the over-sized glass timer are surprisingly fine and light coloured, and more shocking, do not seem sufficient for the remains of two men.
Another controversial work was ‘Lethal weapons’ which was made up of 30 vessels that included hypodermic needles, a water pistol, and HIV infected blood of him and others. Both these works were exhibited in the North Dakota Museum.
One of the pieces in the 30 piece artwork ‘Lethal Weapons’
Another piece from Lethal Weapons.
His works, though really bizarre and highly disturbing, its also deeply confronting and emotional.