Art and Activism Reading List for Lampert’s “People’s Art History USA”

I thought I would share this list of books that I drew up in July to share with students interested in art and activism. I created this list during a recent artist-in-residency at VCFA. It is US-centric which mirrors the focus of my research for A People’s Art History of the United States. It is an incomplete list so please suggest other titles that you might share.


Three must-read books outside the realm of the arts that are leading the dialog on mass incarceration, climate change, and systemic racism: Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New Press, 2010), Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs the Climate (Simon and Shuster, 2014), Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

Science Fiction:
Any and all books by Octavia Butler. Her books are as urgent today as they were when they were first published. This is science fiction with an emphasis on race, class, gender, and the fight for justice.

Art Activism:
Greg Jobin-Leeds, Dey Hernandez-Vazquez, When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First-Century Social Movements and the Activists That Are Transforming Our World, (The New Press, 2015) Read this book if you want a better understanding of the artists and activists changing the world in the recent movements of our time: 2000-on. (Immigrant Rights, Dreamers, LGBT, anti-war, Black Lives Matter, public education, Climate Justice…)

Erick Lyle, Steetopia, (Booklyn, 2015). Case study on gentrification and how capital is destroying/has destroyed San Francisco.

Yates McKee, Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition, (Verso, 2015) A PHD dissertation turned book that examines and critiques the activist art in the US in the 21st Century. Important focus on the issue of art and labor.

Nato Thompson, Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-first Century (Melville House, 2012) Mediations and critique on the intersection of activism, art, and consumer culture by the Creative Times curator.

Deborah B. Gould, Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS, (University of Chicago Press, 2009) Book presents an insiders analysis of the ACT UP movement. Art tactics is not the focus which is all the more reason to read it. The focus is how a movement is built and sustained and how activists find the strength to keep fighting.

Nicolas Lampert, A Peoples Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Movements (The New Press, 2013) Provides a historical framework about the role that visual artists have played in social justice movements in the US from the 18th Century to the 21st Century. Read this to understand how to apply past tactics to the present.

Andrew Boyd, Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution (OR Books, 2012) Title says it all. This is a how-to-manual about tactics, activist art, and the movement culture that arises out of demonstrations and the streets.

Josh MacPhee, Dara Greenwald, (ed) Signs of Change: Social Movement Cultures, 1960s to Now, (AK Press, 2010) Catalog and essays that accompanied the Signs of Change exhibition at Exit Art in 2010. This show looked at movement culture and activist art from around the world.

Peter Weibel (ed), Global Activism: Art and Conflict in the 21st Century, (MIT Press, 2015). This book is epic. It presents 600-pages of art and activism from nearly every corner of the world. Another world is possible/happening.

Gregory Sholette, The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, (MIT Press, 2004) Catalog from the 2004 MASS MoCA exhibition curated by Nato Thompson. Important exhibition that provides a good overview of activist and interventionist art strategies in the early 2000s.

Harry Gamboa Jr., Chon A. Noriega (ed), Urban Exile: Collected Writings Of Harry Gamboa Jr. (University of Minnesota Press, 1998) A good starting point for learning about the East LA art collective ASCO that is all essential for artists engaged in performance, activist art, and social justice to know about.

Nancy Mithlo (ed) Manifestations: New Native Art Criticism, (Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, 2012) 60 biographical essays by 21 indigenous curators, historians, anthropologists and academics on Native artists who are changing the discourse.

Coco Fusco and Brian Wallis (ed.), Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self (Harry N. Abrams, 2003) Important collection of essays on art and the intersection of race, gender, class, and identity.

Elaine H. Kim, Fresh Talk/Daring Gazes: Conversations on Asian American Art, (University of California Press, 2005) Essays on twenty-four contemporary Asian American artists that examines issues of migration, colonization, power, sexuality, war, history, and memory.

Holly Arida, Anan Ameri, (ed.), Etching Our Own Image: Voices from Within the Arab American Art Movement, (Cambridge Scholars Printing, 2007) Collection of writings by Arab American artists, writers, poets, and musicians who are changing the discourse.

Kasher, Steven, The Civil Rights Movement: A Photographic History, 1954–1968, (Abbeville Press, 1996) Artists particularly photographers - changed the course of history during the Civil Rights Movement. This is a good starting point to learn more about this key history.

Norma Broude, Mary D. Garrard, (ed) Power of Feminist Art, (Harry N. Abrams, 1996). All artists working today owe a debt of gratitude to the Feminist Art Movement. Read this book if you dont currently credit the feminist art movement for why collective art, activist art, public art, performance art, video, social practices, etc. has become so prominent today.

Art and Climate Justice
Lucy R. Lippard, Undermining: A Wild Ride Through Land Use, Politics, and Art in the Changing West (The New Press, 2014) Lippard walks us through the landscape of fossil fuels extraction in the Southwest. Artists illustrate her powerful prose.

T. J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Ecology, (Sternberg Press, 2016) T.J. Demos is ahead of the curve when it comes to talking about the urgency of climate justice and how artists play a role in this global movement.

Katie Renz, People Power: An Interview with David Solnit, Mother Jones Magazine, March 22, 2005. Short interview that gives readers an introduction to the tactics of artist-activist David Solnit. Also check out: David Solnit, The New Face of the Global Justice Movement: Taco Bell Boycott Victory: A Model of Strategic Organizing: An Interview with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Truthout, August 24, 2005.

Social Practices/Community Art
Tom Finkelpearl, Dialogues in Public Art, (MIT Press, 2010) Essential reading for those engaged in community art and social practices. The book is a collection of interviews by Finkelpearl with Rick Lowe, Mierle Lademan-Ukeles, Mel Chin, and many others.

Tom Finkelpearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation, (Duke University Press, 2013) Follow up to Dialogs in Public Art. Finkelpearls talent for conducting interviews and conversations with artists is second to none.

Carol Becker, Achim Borchardt-Hume, Lisa Yun Lee (ed), Theaster Gates , Phaidon Press, 2015) First monograph and great introduction to the work of Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, Jr.

Suzzane Lacy, Leaving Art: Writings on Performance, Politics, and Publics, 1974–2007 (Duke University Press, 2010) Comprehensive collection of writings by Lacy that is all essential to those engaged in community art, performance, social practice, and tactical media.

Chicago Social Practice History Series. Five-part series edited by Mary Jane Jacob (and in conjunction with the SAIC exhibition) that documents two decades of social practices and art activism in Chicago. These five books: A Lived Practice, Support Networks, Institutions and Imaginaries, Immersive Life Practices, and Art Against the Law are Chicago-specific but essential to all artists engaged in this field.

Josh MacPhee and Alec Dunn (ed) Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture (PM Press_




Brooklyn Rail:

Art F City:

Guernica Magazine:

Art Papers:

Last edited by Godsil.   Page last modified on August 19, 2016

Legal Information |  Designed and built by Emergency Digital. | Hosted by Steadfast Networks