"As an artist committed to racial and economic justice, it can be difficult to navigate the arts and activism worlds. They can range from a pressure to abandon history and have beauty be “apolitical” to a pressure to be outright, literal and dogmatic at all times. There’s few pathways laid out for those of us trying to navigate that space in between.
For me, the role of artists in social change movements is not to just provide visuals for activists’ communication strategies and immediate needs, but rather to develop what artist Favianna Rodriguez calls a “cultural strategy” to help shift the way people think about the world. It’s our job to imagine the possibilities, shift the thinking on individuals and situations through our representations of them, to explore the grey areas that make humans complicated and interesting, and to uplift the hope and resilience of communities we are a part of to sustain them.
Here’s a list of five artists who are people I look to as models of how to do this kind of cultural work. Each of them is creating work within their discipline to initiate the conversation with their audiences of what it would look like if everyone’s humanity was truly recognized. (There’s many others out there as well--these are just a few whose work has informed my own recently.)
Octavia’s Brood (Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown)
Octavia’s Brood is an anthology of science fiction, inspired by writer Octavia Butler’s collection of stories Lilith’s Brood. The book’s editors Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree Brown offer a series of workshops bridging the worlds for speculative fiction writers and activists, showing how these stories can offer visions for social justice movements. “Any time we try to envision a different world—without poverty, prisons, capitalism, war—we are engaging in science fiction.” Says Walidah in an interview in The Nation. “When we can dream those realities together, that’s when we can begin to build them right here and now.”
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