Module: Let’s Talk About Artivism

Guernica (1937) by Pablo Picasso portrays the Spanish Civil War and is considered by many art critics as the most moving and powerful anti-war painting in history. Image Source: https://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/guernica

Artivism refers to the intentional combination of the arts and activism, using the arts to drive collective social action and changemaking on a particular issue. 

If you have asked yourself: How can I make my work more effective in creating the change I want to see? or “How can I make my action more creative so that it can more profoundly affect my audience?”, then YOU too are an artivist!

Stop Sign (2023) by Banksy. Image Source: https://www.banksy.co.uk

Throughout history, artists have grappled with controversial political and social issues – think of Pablo Picasso, The Beatles, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, George Orwell, etc. Artistic expression and activism often go hand in hand, and artists can play important roles in inspiring and representing activist movements.

Contemporary artists also practice artivism, and you might have heard Bansky from the U.K or J.R. from France. You can discover 20 political artists here.  

Roots by artist Ai WeiWei is a series of iron sculptures cast from the giant roots of Brazil’s endangered Pequi Vinagreiro tree.
Image Source: https://www.lissongallery.com/exhibitions/ai-weiwei-roots

In some situations, particularly in restrictive or totalitarian political regimes, artists, thinkers, academics and public figures have been threatened, silenced, ostracized or banished from their home countries, or even tortured as a result of their role in producing socially or politically critical work. Some famous examples include:

Oscar Wilde, Irish writer, socialist & gay rights activist imprisoned for homosexual activity in the UK in 1895 (posthumously pardoned in 2017).

Ai Wei Wei: Chinese artist and political activist

Pussy Riot:  Russian feminist protest and performance art group 

Tania Bruguera: Cuban dissident artist

Amnesty International: Youth Activism Guide

Young people can get involved in activism and artivism. Amnesty International have published this youth activism guide, and this article on activist learning from the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement has a useful glossary of helpful relevant terminology. 

You can watch a series of videos curated by Westport Library on Artistic Activism for Social Change. These present the most representative examples of socially-engaged artists, from an artist-led and centred perspective.

Fridays For Future MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) protest outside the plenary room at COP26. Activists shout “Keep it in the text!”, referring to the first mention of Fossil Fuels in a COP draft. © Marie Jacquemin / Greenpeace

As you conclude your microlearning into artivism, we invite you to watch this video introducing the activist and artivist work of communities fighting for climate justice and awareness. This video is meant to develop your critical thinking and we anticipate that it might invoke powerful reactions. The video is meant to inspire you to bring the subject of socially-engaged environmental artivism to your community, friends and family and encourage your continuous thinking and going on the subject. See you on the streets CLICA!