‘The Art of Protest’: Activism and art in the Steel City

Earlier this month, Museums Sheffield kicked off its protest and activism season with a live mural demonstration.

‘The Art of Protest’ featured artists Zoe Genders, Tom J Newell, and Jim McElvaney, who have created art pieces to the exhibition’s theme, ‘Hope is Strong’. Hope is Strong, the event’s sister exhibition, takes a look at the history of protest and activism in Sheffield, and will be running until June. The Art of Protest is part of Museums Sheffield’s Live Late series, a monthly event that opens the galleries to visitors in the evening for live art demonstrations.

“The purpose of the event really is to spark an interest and to spark peoples kind of passion and to help them find a route through to the issues that matter to them,” says the event’s producer, Rosie Eagleton.

“Millenium Galleries looks at how art can be used as a vehicle for social change and how art can be in itself a protest.”


The artists each created their own interpretation of the theme ‘Hope is Strong’. Jim McElvaney spent three hours sketching for the event.

“This is a drawing of a girl called Ahed Tamimi. She’s a 17-year-old Palestinian girl and she’s currently being held by the Israeli enforcers for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier. She’s a well known activist in Palestine,” he said.

“This is a great symbol of hope.”

Zoe Genders took a different approach, using colourful abstract shapes.

“It’s to do with sort of coming out of the dark times and heading towards brighter things, which is a theme that runs through quite a lot of my work,” she said. “It’s just to give everyone a little hope, a little colour.”

Tom J Newell spent nine hours painting a dynamic black and yellow portrait of a black panther based on a famous Russian protest piece.

He said: “It’s a powerful animal, with the third eye representing looking into the future and there’s a couple of tears shed to represent the hope and the strength from the hope.”

In addition to the live art, guests were invited to write inspirational quotes of their own on an interactive brick wall.

Some messages included words like “EMPATHY” and “The future is unwritten.” This was set to classic hip hop music provided by Skull and Heart Studio.

“There’s definitely a lot of people wanting to be heard and it’s really nice to celebrate that in this exhibition,” says Claire, a guest at the event.

“We just wrote: ‘Theresa May won’t save the day,’ which I think speaks for itself, and another one I wrote says: ‘All Genders, all colours, all sexes, all ages, all one,’ which is just being inclusive of everyone.

“We’re all one species so we should all look after each other.”