Activism consists of efforts to make improvements (of various degrees) in society; be they social, political, economic or environmental. The forms of activism that most people are familiar with are protests, demonstrations or boycotts.
Art-Activism to me differs only in the fact that “art” is the form of action used. Art Activism is the combination of mindsets, for example combining the creative and the strategic. This isn’t always received well by those who characterise artists as only being intuitive in their expression, and so many argue that activism directly opposes the nature of the artist.
I (alongside Tiffany Webster and Mica Schlosser) took part in Autograph ABP’s Art Activism School from the 14th to 16th December. There we had many a discussion about what art activism means to us, why we chose to do the course and how we wish to apply it to our practices.
Autograph ABP is based in London, “where it runs a photography gallery and a programme of talks and educational activities. It also works internationally promoting exhibitions, events, and publications concerned with photography, cultural identity, race, representation and human rights.”
The forms of art I prominently use as a form of expression is writing and music, both of which have been at the core of activism and political resistance throughout history. Literature, protest songs. I associate the form of art activism I wish to practice with writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and musicians like Nina Simone.
Chimamanda is the writer of the ‘We Should All be Feminists’ Essay, which she did a TED talk on prior to publishing the book. Nina Simone was a musician who who used her music to reflect the times, especially during the Civil Rights era when she released ‘Mississippi Goddamn’. Both women used their art to address issues that directly affected them, in ways that would raise awareness externally and bring about change in society.
I went into the course wanting to learn more about the history of art activism, to understand the processes that artists have gone through and continue to go through. I also wanted to learn about the things I needed to be wary of and to further understand the ethics. I went into the school with an open mind; to develop my knowledge in order to then apply it to my practice, and to be able to have discussions with like-minded people, was what I had hoped to gain.
What I did find, was that conversations with like-minded people was actually not all I needed. During the course, I really grasped the importance of sharing your ideas and experiences with people who may have never come across them before.
In order to practice activism, one must have a cause and the cause I am personally invested in is social justice for all (as an umbrella term), especially women and black people, even more so black women. Focusing on women and black people is not to exclude others or to say that one social group is more important than the other.
However, I do believe that activism is more successful when focused on a particular segment cut out of the whole pie, and if everyone works together by each taking on a segment of the pie, the ultimate goal will still be met, but with attention to detail.
A question that was raised is if it doesn’t make a revolutionary change, is it still activism? To me, it is almost impossible for activism to not result in change, but there are different degrees of change, some larger scale than others, all significant in their own right. Art can be used to inform, to raise awareness, to create solidarity amongst people, to establish communities, to hold power to account – all of which are forms of activism.