It would be easy for you to dismiss art as excessive, as unnecessary, a waste of money and resources when compared with the destitution, ills and social injustices ever-present around the world. If you did this, you would be missing the point of art.
Art exposes and helps resolve issues of social justice. As a cultural tool, art helps humanize and actualize the emotions, grievances, and fears of those who may not have another place to voice concerns. As an illustrative and journalistic tool, art shocks and inspires us to action. What art depicts can illicit a visceral, almost cellular, reaction.
These 5 TED talks that follow are a testament to the power of art to affect positive change, righting, addressing and vocalizing social injustice in the world.
Shirin Neshat – Art in Exile
Art is our weapon. Culture is a form of resistance
A passionate affirmation of the power of art as an instrument of social change. Shirin Neshat demonstrates, through the story of Iran and her own personal position as an exile, how art possesses an immense power to engender change.
James Nachtwey – My Photgraphs Bear Witness
Photographers go to the extreme edges of human experience to show people what’s going on…. They aim their pictures at your best instincts: generosity, a sense of right and wrong, the ability and the willingness to identify with others, the refusal to accept the unacceptable.
Inspired by the photojournalists of the 60s, James Nachtwey has gone on to be the pre-eminent photographer of our generation. His work is often harrowing, always symbolic, and, at times, hopeful. His photographs have not only exposed world issues and inspired conversations on them, but also so enraged public opinion that they have truly helped to change the world.
Suheir Hammad – Poems of War, Peace, Women, Power
I will not dance to your war drum…I will not kill for you. Especially, I will not die for you
These impassioned odes to the suffering of women worldwide echo the hurt Suheir Hammad has witnessed and the knowledge she has gained through her Palestinian-American heritage. Her poems are a voice for all women who suffer such pain.
Emmanuel Jai – The Music of a War Child
The dreams I have sometimes are like the voices of the dead that I have seen who would tell me, ‘Don’t give up. Keep on Going’
A former child soldier in Sudan, Emmanuel Jai witnessed the rape, murder and destruction of his family and all that he knew. When retelling his stories, you can see in his eyes and hear in his voice that those memories are still alive inside him. Rescued by an aid worker, he is now using his poetry and music to both enlighten the world to the fate of those who suffered, and still suffer, as he did. Through this exposure he is raising money to educate the youth of Sudan and help to slowly bring justice and peace there.
Mallika Sarabhai: Dance to Change the World
If we think we can all agree that we need a better world, a more just world, why is it that we are not using the one language that has consistently showed us that we can break down barriers, that can we can reach people? What I need to say to the planners of the world, the governments, the strategists is, ‘You have treated the arts as the cherry on the cake. It needs to be the yeast
A pioneer of using dance and the arts for social change, Mallika Sarabhai’s TED talk is entertaining, insightful, and a great advocate of art’s power, in particular the power of physical theatre, to both affect social change and challenge social injustice. Touching on issues of rape, water sanitation and the escalating culture of violence in our society it is a compelling example of using alternative methods to achieve great results.
Bonus talk: Later this month, Cloudhead will feature an interview with Iain Thomas, the creator of I Wrote This For You. His project and blog have gone on to win a wealth of prestigious poetry, literature and photography awards, as well as topping bestseller lists worldwide. His own TED talk touches on the power of art to affect positive social change.
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There’s no story I can tell you that is as powerful as the story you can tell yourself