culture The Wildest Riots Caused by Works of Art  

Kellen Perry
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A powerful piece of art can inspire a lot of things: awe, appreciation, reflection ... and sometimes, full-scale riots. Riots caused by art are sometimes humorous, such as an elderly woman protesting Steve Reich's avant garde minimalism by banging her shoe on the stage while fistfights rage on behind her. That's hilarious.

But other art works that caused riots are not at all funny. Religious riots sparked by supposedly blasphemous art have killed many people. Then there are violent incidents such as the Astor Place Riot (inspired largely by competing performances of Shakespeare) that killed dozens and injured hundreds more. Read on for more of the wildest, deadliest, and sometimes funniest riots inspired by art.

"Innocence of Muslims" Sparked Riots That Killed More Than 50

"Innocence of Muslims"... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Wildest Riots Caused by Works of Art
Photo:  Jamie Kennedy/via Wikimedia

The "Art": A 2012 anti-Islamic "movie" "trailer" called Innocence of Muslims, written, produced, and uploaded to YouTube by Egyptian-born Coptic Christian Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Vanity Fair described it as, "Exceptionally amateurish, with disjointed dialogue, jumpy editing, and performances that would have looked melodramatic even in a silent movie, the clip is clearly designed to offend Muslims, portraying Mohammed as a bloodthirsty murderer and Lothario and pedophile with omnidirectional sexual appetites."

Nakoula also allegedly tricked the actors into performing in the trailer by lying and saying that the full-length movie (which has never come to light) was actually an "historical Arabian Desert adventure film" called Desert Warrior.

The Riots: The first major riot against the film took place in Egypt on September 11, 2012. Later riots throughout the world resulted in more than 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries.

Why?: The blatantly anti-Islamic clip, which The New Republic says "includes not a single artistically redeemable aspect," was seemingly created specifically to incite violence.

Competing Performances of "Macbeth" Spark a Riot That Killed at Least 25 People

Competing Performances of "... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Wildest Riots Caused by Works of Art
Photo:  NYPL Digital Gallery/via Wikimedia

The Art: Competing performances of William Shakespeare's Macbeth on May 10, 1849 in Manhattan.

The Riot: At least 25 people were killed and more than 120 were injured, many by the state militia, who opened fire into the crowd.

Why?: What became known as the "Astor Place Riot" was inspired by more than just the "dueling" performances, but they were a major contributing factor. The rivalry between American actor Edwin Forrest and British actor William Macready (both playing Macbeth that night) became symbolic of the tensions between working-class Americans (and Irish immigrants) and the "Anglophile" upper class (who controlled the police and state militia). Supporters of the two actors clashed in the streets the night of the performances, prompting the state militia to use deadly force against citizens for the first time in US history.

An Actor Punched an Audience Member During "The Plough and the Stars"

An Actor Punched an Audience M... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Wildest Riots Caused by Works of Art
Photo:  bjaglin/via Wikimedia

The Art: A performance of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey's play The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland, on February 12, 1926.

The Riot: A chaotic scene in the theater: a "general melee" took place on stage during the performance, resulting in twenty women getting "thrown bodily back into the orchestra" and at least one actor landing a "sharp blow" on a man attempting to keep the curtain from falling.

Why?: The crowd didn't like O'Casey's "defaming" the failed Easter Rising of 1916.

A Riot Inspired in Part by "La Muette de Portici" Leads to Belgian Independence

A Riot Inspired in Part by ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Wildest Riots Caused by Works of Art
Photo:  Egide Charles Gustave Wappers/via Wikimedia

The Art: An August 25, 1830 performance of Daniel Auber's opera La Muette de Portici (The Mute Girl of Portici) in Brussels.

The Riot: The crowd was whipped into a frenzy during the performance, but the real rioting began shortly after, when many in the crowd joined protesters in the street and began destroying factories and occupying government buildings.

Why?: Revolution! Brussels wasn't the capital of Belgium in 1830 because there was no "Belgium" in 1830. Brussels was just a city in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Belgian Revolution changed all that, and the performance that night is widely considered to be a flashpoint that helped spark it. The opera tells the story of a lowly fisherman that starts an uprising against Spanish rulers in Naples in 1647, an obvious inspiration to the mobs that poured out into the streets that night.