The aim of activist artists is to create art that is a form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures rather than representing them or simply describing them.– TATE “Art Term: Activist Art”
It can be extremely frustrating to feel powerless, and political and social issues can feel far out of our control. Often times this frustration is what inspires many to become artists, activists, or a combination of the two. An activist, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.”
According to TATE – the term activist art is used to describe art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues. Aside from addressing political or social issues, grounding your work in the act of doing is a vital characteristic and hence the name, “active”.
Figuring out what that action is can sometimes be tricky or overwhelming. There are many ways to use your gifts and platform to inspire action and change. We’ve listed a few ideas and examples of how you can start taking action through your art.
1. CREATE AWARENESS
We can create awareness in many ways. Art has impact and can start widespread conversation. Songs have often driven movements, murals have caught eyes and started conversations, and photography can capture a part of a story that isn’t being told by the mainstream media. To name a few examples: Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, Childish Gambino’s “This is America”, U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, Banksy, Jacob Lawrence, Diego Rivera, and countless more. San Francisco native Photographer, Kit Castgne, captured different moments of the Black Lives Matter protests in SF along with information on what and when things were happening. The activist artist Tania Bruguera (as quoted by TATE) says it well, “I don’t want art that points to a thing. I want art that is the thing.”
2. RAISE MONEY
RAW artist, Andrew Emel (AKA @Stiched_Peens) decided to jump into action by starting a raffle to win a free embroidery. To enter, his followers had to donate at least $5 to Black Lives Matter and send him the receipt. He recently announced the winner of the raffle and also shared that it helped raise $1,945. Andrew went on to say that he plans on doing another.
Tyler Thrasher Art started a campaign to raise $5,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement. Tyler created the slogan “RAISE SOME HECK” which he printed onto a custom t-shirt. A percentage of the funds went towards the campaign. The campaign did so well that Tyler was able to raise $75k which he dispersed into different causes that support the movement, he raised $20k for The Bail Project alone. He promoted a few other causes that help support the socio-economic growth of the black community. While thanking everyone for their participation he promised to post the receipts of the donated funds, and this is an important component to maintaining trust within your community and mission.
Activist art is about empowering individuals and communities and is generally situated in the public arena with artists working closely with a community to generate the art.– TATE “Art Term: Activist Art”
3. INSPIRE ACTION
Action is key! Inspiring your followers to take action is a great way to invoke change. It’s important to be specific when asking your audience to take action, a great example of this is artist Juliet Lo. She offered to draw one’s favorite flower if they sent her proof that they signed the petition to hold the police responsible for the death of George Floyd accountable.