Art as Activism: Punks, Poets, Rebels

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Art as Activism: Punks, Poets, Rebels

Join the conversation with activists pioneering change across the creative industries.

Streamed online as part of the Creative Coalition Festival 2022, Art As Activism interrogated the role of activism in creative industries, discussing the ways in which politics, social action, and personal experiences help to shape the art we make.

Freelance journalist Sirin Kale chaired the panel discussion, which included: GAIKA – musician and multimedia artist, Lemn Sissay – poet and writer, and Fats Timbo – creator and comedian.

Storytelling was a particularly poignant theme throughout the event; the desire to tell others your story in order to feel heard and seen. “Some people might protest, some people might strike,” said Fats Timbo, “but I think it’s so important to just make people aware – that’s my way of doing activism, through art.

That act of storytelling, Lemn Sissay believes, must be honest. “You’ve got to be genuinely committed to the story. You can’t do it because you want to get ‘likes’.”

GAIKA resonated with that desire to be honest in the work he makes, reflecting further on the interrelationship between the political and the personal. “To separate it, for me, seems kind of disingenuous. It doesn’t make any sense… I care about people. I care about the world, you know, and I have an opinion, so I just try to be honest to that.”

Speaking on the combination of the political and the personal, Lemn suggested that those values exist in the work of every artist. “I think all artists,” Lemn remarked, “regardless of whether they’re overtly political or not, will find that if they lean into their story, there’s lots of original material waiting to be produced.”

“Politics tends not to be personal in many ways. We’re non-linear, and that’s important. We can laugh… we can make you cry…we can make you fearful, and that’s important. We are non-linear and we will not be dictated as to how to present an issue.”

The panel also spoke about ideas surrounding representation in the arts, with Fats highlighting the important role social media has to play in democratising representation. “It’s definitely somewhere that you see different types of people,” she said, highlighting the promise of social media platforms as spaces where everyone can exist.

But, for her, there was still a lot of work to be done in mainstream media to adequately represent those with disabilities, something that social media seems to already do: “Social media has been the best form of representation, because it’s real people. Those people have great followings because it’s new to people; they want to know about it. They want to hear their stories. They’re intrigued about it, you know, and I think the mainstream media needs to allow that to happen.”

Pivoting towards the point of creating a supportive environment for activism, and how that might look, Lemn highlighted the role of artists. “I think the best thing that you can do politically as an artist is provide environments for [young people] to flourish…so that they can further their take on the same issue because they’re pushing it a little bit further.”

The internet – and social media in particular – are those new environments for activism. “They’re using new facilities to push the agenda…Information is travelling so fast that those who were born into that system are finding new ways to use it.”

Those digital environments resonated intimately with GAIKA who, over lockdown and alongside artists GLOR1A and Shannen SP, had set up ‘Nine Nights’ a music broadcast programme which led to an exhibition as the ICA. “I guess it was political in its inception,” he said, “and political in its nature, but it was indirectly so. It was more to do with creating an environment, creating a space that people could be in and create their own memories, create their own truths as they interact with a place like that.”

Thinking about the commerciality of art, GAIKA offered a stirring piece of advice to young creatives: “Just remember that you have the source. If I don’t make the record, then it doesn’t get made… Your art is your art, and it only gets made if you make it.”

Creative Coalition Festival’s Art As Activism event was sponsored by TikTok.


Author: Alex Stubbs


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