Photo Essay: Art and Politics in Europe 

By Emma Schulman

The way that the air moved throughout the train station was special. The train was running behind, and maybe that created an opportunity for people to get to know one another at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France. From city to city I and my family had time to get to know a little piece of each city and its people. We were in Rome, Florence, Venice, Paris, and London. The train system moves through different landscapes and through different materials of artwork that were tagged onto the city. As the train was soon to come, I met two blonde women from the United States. Both sisters were raised by a Republican former candidate for congress, Steve Reeder. As they traveled with a toddler, they had plenty to say about postpartum care and how countries like Sweden handled parental leave and women’s health care 

While they expressed their view on politics through words, I couldn’t help but notice other kinds of political and artistic expression throughout my trip. Europe is filled with street art of all kinds and I wanted to capture some of the ways people expressed how they felt through the paint on the walls or other symbols. I also noticed cultural expression in the nightlife of the various cities I visited. 

Emily, one of the American sisters I met, wanted to have her husband be with her while she gave birth, however, the doctors told her that was not possible, due to COVID -19. This resulted in her turning to midwifery care. 

Emily said, “I was amazed at the level of care I received for [my son], there was so much love. My midwife was spiritual, she thought it was a miracle, there is not something wrong with the women when labor begins.”

Along with the midwife team, Emily’s husband and her sister were able to attend. Emily felt like her experience with the midwives was much different than it had been in a hospital. 

“Post-postpartum care for midwives is very different from in the hospital, and lack of support is the biggest piece. Women are supported through pregnancy and it’s like ‘oh, we’ll open the door for you,’  but then after the baby is born we won’t see each other for six weeks. The first check-up is on the baby and not on the mom, but the mom is the most important. The midwives came every single day for a good three weeks, then once a week, or twice a week. ” ( Emily and Anna on the way from Paris to London) 

The United States has the worst mortality rate for mothers giving birth than any other industrialized nation according to NPR. If the mom is a black woman, the chances increase.  

Emily and Anna may seem progressive towards women’s health care, and this is something they are clearly passionate about. However, their views can at times lean conservative as it is worth noting they are anti-abortion. This is despite the fact there are negative consequences to women’s health by limiting access to abortion care, according to a duke press study, The number of pregnancy-related deaths would increase if abortion was to be banned and the numbers vary by race  (Emily and Anna, on the way from Paris to London)

They do see the need for more resources for parents. Anna feels inspired by what Nordic countries are doing for moms. Anna said, “Maternity leave in Sweden, is a year and a half, versus six weeks in the States. A mom can’t breastfeed for [only six weeks]. Where mom is encouraged to stay home and so is the dad. There is a six-month paternity leave in Sweden, whereas paternity leave in the United States isn’t that big if it exists at all. ” 

It’s not just women in the USA who are struggling with health and child care, but women in Ukraine as well. According to the New York Times, women giving birth in Ukraine have had to do so in subway stations to avoid the chaos above. The war in Ukraine has affected so much, from mothers to artwork. (Anna on the way from Paris to London)

In Italy, the war in Ukraine was no longer something that was far away and this image on the street was a reminder of that. The larger Russian doll seems to be attached to the smaller Russian doll. The larger Russian doll also seems to be bombing the small Russian doll. The smaller doll is in Ukrainian colors while the larger doll is in Russian colors. Based off of this information, it can be assumed that the artist is against the war in Ukraine, however, you never truly know who the characters are until the jig is up. This piece of art of the Russian dolls can be seen on the streets of Rome. (Nesting Doll Art in Rome, Italy

The glass-making business has struggled with the war in Ukraine. This is because countries around the world have decided to boycott Russian gas and it’s made the cost of gas go up. This has made it more difficult to create glass items, like chandeliers. According to NPR, “The energy crisis is touching every sector, even art.” It’s no wonder that artists, whether it be those who make glass sculptures or those in the streets, are feeling the impact of the war. This location is where people gather to make glass. (Chandeliers in Venice, Italy) 

Artists voiced their ideas about other topics as well.

In this photo, you can see a figure whispering into a woman’s ear. The woman is wearing a headscarf with the number symbol above. The meaning of the art is unknown, however, it could reference something about immigration or foreign policy. 

Regardless of the meaning, the artist decided to express how they felt by using a figure of someone that people do not often see in art. In European museums, it’s rare to see a portrait of a Muslim woman. So perhaps in a way, this street art is giving us the representation that we would not see otherwise. The other person seems to look like they are wearing a hat. They could be whispering something to the woman or trying to hug her. This piece of art popped up a second time as well. Maybe it’s because the artist was trying to spread some sort of message? (A poster of a woman in a hijab is posted on a wall with someone next to her, Florence Italy. )

Another woman tattered in bandaids that are layered with Instagram tags has eyes that wander when you move. Near her is a butterfly. The two items could have nothing to do with each other. Maybe they weren’t even supposed to be the same piece of art? Beside her are two other pieces of art that seem to be torn. The woman makes the wall behind her seem a lot more colorful. Her hands seem to honor her cultural roots. The woman has a henna design on her hands. Even if the art is surrounded by other items that don’t fit, she seems proud of where she stands in the art.  (A piece of art is posted on a wall. It includes a woman wearing a headscarf wrapped in bandaids, Rome Italy ) 

( People talking and gathering in Rome, Italy)

People came to this little area in Rome to eat, dream, drown their sorrows, or celebrate life. With all that’s been going on in the world, perhaps being able to go out into the night is turning into a true craft. People set up these food stands with some celebratory lights in the background with the intention that people will gather there. After a global pandemic that separated people from one another for so long, spaces like these where people can connect are starting to bloom once again, and for those who haven’t seen their loved ones in a while, it’s a gift. (Snack stand in Rome, Italy

Throughout the week people danced and listened to music on a bridge. This is another space that people made for themselves post-paramedic to try to get together. Despite what was going on in Ukraine and the hiking gas prices, people were able to be carefree and still manage to have fun at this spot. (People gathering on a bridge in Florence, Italy)

On the right side, lies an image of what seems to be a Barbie superwoman, and on the left is a woman who looks like she’s mad at the little character below her.  The artist might not have meant anything political by this art, but it is interesting how women, who seem like opposites, are stunning side by side on the same wall. (art with two women in  Rome Italy. ) 

Around what looks like a well-thought-out piece of art, is a bunch of scribbles. It’s interesting how something so pretty can be surrounded by items that are so random. There is a bright-colored bike and a couple of other scooters. The main figure could be inspired by the other sculptures in the city. It could even be inspired by a philosopher. (Bikes by a painting of a figure in Rome, Italy)

The pride flag at the door has the Italian word for peace on it. It delivers a certain level of support to some, and a reminder to be peaceful to others. The flag in itself is a symbol of self-expression and art, due to the history it carries. The word pace is attached to another Italian slang, according to Pace e Bene, an advocacy group in California that promotes non-violence. “Pace da tutti i balconi.” This translates to, “peace from every balcony.” The store itself helped brighten up a darker part of the street. Inside the store are snacks, fruit, water, and a little ATM. (small store Rome, Italy)