Who, the People?

Stripped to its basics, democracy means rule of the people (demos, people, and kratia, rule). This means figuring out just who the people who allegedly rule actually are always requires some baseline level of theoretical engagement.

How, then, might we instead go about envisioning the people? How can we represent them in a way that rises to the challenge and honors the complexity of the task at hand? The most suggestive, and instructive, way to tackle the riddle of popular sovereignty as a visual proposition might be to review some of the best-known efforts to render “the people” as self-conscious political subjects in Western art.

To begin understanding how to see the people as they might one day be, we’d do well to get a better grasp of how they have been formerly, and formally, portrayed.

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