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Madonna deemed secretprojectrevolution her most important artistic achievement to date.

In the 1992 interview with Vanity Fair, asked what she is going to do when she turns 50 and her “body goes”, Madonna promptly replied “I’ll use my mind”. Indeed. Not that her body is any less seductive than it was in 1992 – contrary, she gets better with age just like a fine wine! – but her recent artistic endeavours clearly show she’s more fond of expressing herself by using mind power rather than her physical attributes. Eagerly raising public awareness when necessary, rebelled against any form of discrimination, she eventually gave vent to her rage with one of her most unusual projects to date, secretprojectrevolution.

She was telling us a secret already in her 2005 documentary. The film ends with Madonna visiting Israel, amidst the protests of her arrival. Her 2012 visit in the country, with the opening show of The MDNA Tour, was surrounded by the threat of Israel striking Iran – the show was aptly named “Concert for Peace”. A series of other sociopolitical events around the world would then occur simultaneously with the run of the tour. Pussy Riot were imprisoned and gay rights violated in Russia. Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai was assassinated. The presidential election campaign in the United States wasn’t going much to her liking. On the top of that, politicians in France and Russia went as far as to threaten with legal actions to stop her from baring inconvenient truths.

“There were moments that started to make me feel that I needed to make a statement, that I needed to say something about what I was witnessing”

Not everybody knows that secretprojectrevolution never was an advancely planned move. In 2012, between touring the world, promoting Truth or Dare perfumes and opening new Hard Candy fitness centres, the ever-working Queen of Pop was also designing a line of lingerie. She invited her artistic partner in crime, Steven Klein to work with her on the promotional photo shoot, but little did she know that the potential distributor would reject her underwear as being too risky – and the project stalled. One thing leads to another, and so the set, crew and lingerie were subsequently utilized for filming the artistic manifestation Madonna wanted to make.

The 17-minute black and white film offers everything from pantomime and expressive dance, through Madonna’s unlikely rendition of an American patriotic song, to recurring scenes of violence and torture. It’s a dark picture, full of unrest and decadence, yet beautifully shot, provoking similarities to 2003’s X-STaTIC PRO=CeSS. In the monologue led throughout the film, Madonna reflects on injustice, intolerance, oppression, vowing to fight for your personal freedom against “those fascist dictators posing as righteous men”. By the time the film finishes, we learn that it’s dedicated to those who suffer from oppression and persecution, be it people of colour, sexual minorities or individuals discriminated against on the grounds of their gender.

After months of teasing fans with trailers and rescheduling the release date, testing everyone’s patience to the limits, the long-awaited film was released in September 2013 in a form that one may surely call untypical. First screened on multiple outdoor locations worldwide, the film was then made available for free download on BitTorrent. secretprojectrevolution felt more like an edgy move by an independent, emerging artist, rather than a fanfare release from an established popstar with 30 years of a successful career. All the more so that the promotion it was accompanied with can at best be called minimal, with a handful of interviews and a single performance at a New York gallery.

Fairly enough, as it wasn’t a money-making venture for Madonna. The whole point was to direct people’s attention to different issues related to freedom: the lack of it, fighting for it, or taking it for granted. The launch of an open platform Art for Freedom aimed at stimulating people’s creativity to express what freedom means to them, in any shape or form they desire.

“This film, aside from my children, is to me the most important thing I’ve ever done.”

So, seven months after its release, has the project been met with expected results? Changing world for a better place naturally requires a greater amount of time, but so far, the action has sparked some heated debate and polarized opinions. While some couldn’t understand what exactly Madonna wants to achieve with the film, claiming, quite understandably, that “pushing an agenda of tolerance to Madonna’s own fanbase is like expounding upon the benefits of vegetables to vegans”, others praised her for using power and prestige for taking the idea of changing the world to another level.

MadonnaNewEra in Berlin at #secretprojectrevolution screening

An estimated ten thousand people watched the film across all screenings, and its YouTube views have quickly risen into hundreds of thousands. In less than three weeks, the BitTorrent Bundle has been downloaded over 1.2m times, and tens of works are being submitted to the Art for Freedom’s grant program, which is currently in the middle of its run. Despite Madonna’s status as the Queen of Pop and involvement of other celebrities, secretprojectrevolution isn’t garnering a mass attention and its respective hashtags haven’t conquered the social media. That, however, doesn’t reflect the measure of its success, but only points out flaws of the contemporary mass mentality. Thoughts-provoking projects with a significant message simply fail to win the “click, view and like” battle when set against latest celebrity gossips and music of a dubious artistry.

According to Madonna herself, the film is only a part one of a bigger, long-term project, which she hopes will inspire other known figures to make their own statements. Chances are that it will also set the tone of her forthcoming album, with a lyric from a potential new song “Rebel Heart” promising material that the film could be a prelude to. In retrospect, secretprojectrevolution will definitely stand out as an unusual piece in the long list of Madonna’s achievements.

Matt Zaremba

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