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Why Art is Used in Activism

It has become a powerful tool for protest

As humans, we are innately drawn to change. Whether it’s our existential crises about consistently ageing or our desire to always have the latest iPhone, we’re a sucker for evolution. But there are more important causes that humanity has been fighting over for years. Activism is at the heart of this drive for social and political change and within the world of activism, you’ll always find art.

Art allows us to express our opinions through many mediums. From Picasso’s anti-war painting ‘Guernica’ after the Spanish town was bombed during World War II to the Guerilla Girls' feminist slogans protesting inequalities in the museum world, art has helped visualise issues and empower us to fight for change. Here’s why art has become such a powerful method of activism to demonstrate, communicate and support.

Women's March on Washington via Wikimedia Commons

To demonstrate

On the 21st of January 2017, one day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the US President, five million people around the world took to the streets to protest for the rights of women, the LGBTQ+ community and immigration reform (the list goes on). Looking at the image above from the main protest in Washington D.C., it is powerful to see so many people gathered for the cause, but is it also powerful to see a sea of signs stating the messages that they’re marching for.

Using pens, paint and illustrations, everyone was able to get involved in making sure their voice was seen loud and clear, and it’s not just at the women’s marches that these DIY artworks are making a statement. At climate protests around the world, you’ll find drawings reminding us that “There’s no planet B” and putting a middle finger up to the destruction of our planet.

Not only do these homemade signs provide a way for people to express their opinions on issues and inequalities, but it allows the messages to live on beyond the marches. Whether it’s signs being reused for future protests (we wish there wasn’t so much to protest about) or saved as a token of people’s contribution to the fight, DIY artworks continue to provide a tool for people to demonstrate around the world.

Climate protest art via Wikimedia Commons

To communicate

Using art as a tool to share important messages is not only for protests and marches. It’s hard to walk down the streets of a bustling city and not come across graffiti that could give Van Gogh a run for his money. But unlike the famous Post-Impressionist paintings that live within the walls of museums, street art is meant to be seen by all. Using the Earth as their canvas, artists are creating works in public spaces to communicate their message with the masses.

This has been seen during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where artists have taken to street art as a tool to show their solidarity with Ukraine. In Paris, Seth Globe painted the streets with an image of a young girl holding the Ukrainian flag and posted the work on Instagram followed by the hashtag #standwithukraine. In Cardiff, My Dog Sighs created a powerful work inspired by the devastating photos of Kyiv seen on Twitter. But what’s also so impactful is that these artists have 258k and 89k followers respectively, meaning that these works have been seen by people far beyond the borders of Paris and Cardiff.

This shows that street art has become more than just a singular symbol of activism and is an influential tool to communicate with others. The power of social media and sharing art online gives artists a platform to be able to reach corners of the world they would never have been able to before. Through street art, people are able to discover more about these issues that are happening around the world and by sharing images of the art, they can show their solidarity too.

To support

We’ve seen that art is used in activism with DIY demonstration signs and messages shared through street art, but there is also a physical impact that art can have. Like all industries, the art world runs on money and money is one of the most influential currencies in our society. It has the power to fund charities, support initiatives and provide resources for those in need.

Back in 2020, the Anti-Racism Photo Fundraiser raised £91,800 to support three British organisations supporting Black communities: Black Minds Matter, The Black Curriculum and Exist Loudly. Over 100 photographers got involved to share their work and put all profits from the photo print sale towards these charities. These larger fundraisers have been able to have a real-life, financial impact on communities, but it is not just the bigger initiatives that are doing their bit.

Individual artists can also use their creativity to support others and Sabina Silver is setting an example. When selling prints of her work ‘The Chibok Girls’, she decided to donate 5% of all proceeds to help the victims of Boko Haram violence. When speaking with us on this she said: “As artists, we have a responsibility. It’s cruel and selfish to immortalise someone's pain and benefit from it without giving back to those people and using it as trauma porn. If I’m painting and it’s directly related to something that’s happened or happening, and there’s a way that I can give from that, I will.”

With this sentiment in mind, art can be seen as such a powerful tool for activism. Both professional artists and people with paints they picked up in the supermarket can get involved. Making your mark with demonstration signs, sharing on social media and giving back through proceeds; it all makes a difference.

Discover impactful art at BRUSHWRK


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