Art as Activism
By Michaelia Fosses, NSNS Staff Writer
Two young men walk down a dirt road, seemingly in chase of two boys playing soccer barefoot with a homemade ball. A few children gather to look on.
This is just one of the many photos from Project Focus, a student organization and traveling photography exhibit whose first show features photos taken by 16 children living in the slums around Kampala, Uganda.
Patricia Blauvelt, a junior communication major at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Public Relations Director for Project Focus, says the group’s goal was giving a voice to an otherwise silent people.
“We wanted to give the kids an outlet—to give the kids a way to document their lives,” she said. “A lot of people go places and document their experiences, but it's their perspective. We wanted to give the kids a voice—to explore something they'd never used before.”
Art as activism has been around almost since the first human drew a picture of an animal on the wall of a cave. From the political art of the 1930s, to the murals of Diego Rivera, to street art in major cities around the world, art has been a major force of social change for years.
Currently the movement is surging at college campuses across the nation. This semester, students have organized a plethora of events and created an abundance of unique art that spreads a message.
“If you want to make a social statement, I think art is a good way to do it,” said Sarah Jeziorski, artist and senior psychology major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “Ideally, I think it can reach people on more of a personal level.”
At the University of Georgia, students held a festival that exposed truths about animal abuse. “Speak Out for Species” explored the human-animal relationship through the popular medium of film.
"The films bring to light various issues involving animals that the general population has no idea about," said Tatiana Barron in a Red and Black article. "Hopefully, it will spur some compassion that will lead to action. Every little bit counts."
At the University of California at Davis, students explored the meaning of feminism through film, holding their second annual feminist film festival. The films explored such topics as class, race, disability, spirituality, gender, and body image.
Students at Pepperdine University in California used visual art to convey their message. The Eve Project created a mural on one of the walls on campus to promote sexual violence awareness and to give survivors a voice.
Another mural project at the University of New Hampshire asked 13 students to explore the meaning of the word 'diversity,' taking advantage of the perception that in the last few decades, art has become more global and without a definite center.
Many people think art exists as a medium for expression, but these students and student movements are working to prove that sometimes, art has a message as well.
“I think art's always had a message—people are just learning how to use it more directly,” said Blauvelt.
Jeziorski agrees, “I think it's refreshing to see social commentary in art.”
Art is all around us, said Blauvelt, asking, “Why not [use it to] teach someone something?”