The Art of Protest: An Interview with Dan Perjovschi


Protests against a mining project in Romania have brought tens of thousands of people to the streets and have been the beneficiary of drawings by the sympathetic artist Dan Perjovschi, one of the best-known artists living in the country.

On Aug. 27, the Romanian parliament passed a law in a closed-door session that resolved to go forward with the Rosia Montana gold mining project (headed by Gabriel Resources, a Canadian Corporation) despite 15 years of debate and opposition by activists concerned that the pollution to the environment caused by cyanide used in the process would be catastrophic and that the promised jobs would turn out to be few in number. Protests against the law, the project and the corruption linked with it have erupted internationally, with activists of different political backgrounds, from progressives to nationalists. The protests demand that the law be rescinded and the ministers responsible for pushing it forward fired.

Perjovschi spoke to A.i.A. via e-mail about his role in the protests, the ways his drawings have been used, and questions of copyright versus copyleft.

OLGA STEFAN What do you think brings all these protesters together as a unified front against this particular initiative, while other protests against political corruption, and even what was called a coup in 2012, did not have the same force?

DAN PERJOVSCHI In only one year, the current government (considered center-left, it came to power after the anti-austerity protests in 2012 brought down the center-right government of Traian BÄ?sescu) managed to do everything possible to piss people off. I was also involved in a student Occupy movement (in Cluj and Bucharest) in March. The students’ requests were legitimate (they asked for space for debate, a committed budget, etc.). The government totally ignored this. And then, when this law custom-made for a corporation was given the green light, young people went to the streets. The core group of protesters are activists who have been fighting this project for 15 years. I also think the theme is precise enough (stop the cyanide mining in Rosia Montana) and universal enough (protect nature, our mountains and our country) to unite yuppies, anti-capitalists, anarchists, artists etc.

STEFAN You have always been politically engaged and have made work that through the use of irony and humor has criticized specific and general issues in current events. Recently you have devoted your activism to the Rosia Montana cause by posting drawings about this issue on your Facebook page (which is followed by thousands) and sharing documentation of the protests from various parts of the world. What impact have you had, and is it realistic to think that artists can have an impact on political events through their artwork?

PERJOVSCHI For some time, I have been sliding from the institution wall to Facebook walls. I have found it to be an interesting space. My drawings mean something beyond “art.” I can have a more objective and precise look at the events I comment on. During the student Occupy protest, I posted a drawing, and if somebody on the ground identified with it, he/she could use it. The students downloaded them and put them all around the amphitheatre they occupied. It was one of my best “shows.

Now, with Rosia, I also deliver some statements to help people to focus on the issues. They replicate them on big banners or download them and stick them on their T-shirts. I really feel I have a role. I am not on the front lines (this is not my revolution), but I can support and show some solidarity with this new generation. In January 2012 the protest was quickly politically manipulated. This time almost all media was bought by the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (Gabriel Resources) so at first they turned a blind eye. Then when social media took the news and spread it, the old media had to report. And they tried to throw dirt at the protesters but it did not stick. The protesters outsmarted the “power,” using bikes to move around and plastic bottles to drum in the big boulevards, and they kept everything peaceful and creative to psychologically disarm the police.

STEFAN How do you deal with copyright issues, or do you prefer the copyleft approach? How does your distribution model affect your practice? 

PERJOVSCHI This time, for these protests, it’s copyleft but only for activist and communication purposes. If I see somebody selling a T-shirt I will sue them.