The last few months have seen a sea of emotions ebbing and flowing. Whether it’s the distress that continues to grow in the minds of many citizens who now fear their own country, or anger that floods the eyes of people across the world thinking about ways to help, everyone seems to be grappling with pain and worry. But a string of hope weaves itself through the globe as communities collectively come together to participate in acts of resistance.
If the dread of his looming term wasn’t enough, President Donald Trump signed an executive order less than a month after taking office that temporarily blocked people from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the US on visas and suspended admission of all refugees. As thousands of people were stranded and families torn apart, peaceful protests lined the airports and streets demonstrating solidarity and resistance to the normalization of prejudice. At a time when hate crimes and bigotry are on the rise, being part of a creative community requires more resilience than ever. Using our voices and actions to stand up for the people who have been thrown into the darkest corners of abhorrence is a crucial challenge today.
We turned to some creators from different parts of the world to understand how to meaningfully become a part of the movement. How do we move past the initial call for motivational messages to nudge communities in specific directions effectively?
Founder of Here for The Color
Everyone is human first. Artist or anything else falls second. So, I would say the role of any artist or creative professional is to show their humanity in the ways that they can — whether that means joining a protest, signing a petition, donating to an organization, creating activist art, or just, being kind, especially to those who aren’t seeing enough kindness.
Some artists have platforms, audiences, and monetary resources large enough to allow their art to act as a voice for many — the biggest example of this is Shepard Fairey’s posters recently created and distributed during the Women’s March, with money raised through a crowdfunding platform. They were reflective of the style he created for the iconic Obama posters, except this time he put the power in the hands of the people. I saw at least four different versions — one of them was a Muslim woman wearing the U.S. flag as a hijab. When I attended the protest in Los Angeles, I saw a Muslim woman proudly holding this image in the air. At the end of the day, he is a street artist who started like any another with something to say, so anyone should start making a difference in the way they can now.
With many designers, problem solving, unfortunately, is just down to making posters. For those in advertising — this means making yet another ‘award-winning’ activation campaign/installation/PR stunt, accompanied by an ‘awards-submission-ready’ case video featuring a low husky authoritative voice that starts the narration with‘India is a country with many problems’. I suspect the budget for the case video is sometimes more than the creative solution itself.
That really annoys me. I think the starting point for solving problems is to involve other peers with different skillset — combine different experiences and knowledge to make things happen! Look at the larger picture; look at what real impact you can create. If you don’t like Trump, spend time to find a solution, involve others and work towards that solution. Maybe it is about dispelling his lies and finding ways to tell the truth. Could be simple information and graphics. Or could be real and practical solutions to help those were trapped at the airports during the Muslim ban.
A lot of people have been sounding disheartened, but now is the time to be more active than ever. Most of our efforts should deal with why Trump was elected, and why his campaign resonated with key constituencies. While I have no right to comment on another country’s state of affairs, the creative community might only be part of a small network of people in the urban areas of the country — how about starting a dialogue with people who don’t have this access, it might be interesting to engage with their point of view. Can we bring those voices to life and make their pain real? Can we give them a platform? Another reason is that it might be simply because White ‘Christian’ people just want their former ‘glory’ back, in which case we can only continue to educate through our work.
A huge reason for Trump’s win is that people are voting for sensationalism on the basis of their emotions. It’s mostly because an understanding of policy is lacking and is largely inaccessible. More information on these topics should be demystified. I think it’s sad it has to happen this way, but it’s a great wake up call to many that we need to be accountable for all the people installed in government, and to understand the consequences of keeping this information largely unavailable. Hopefully it will shake all of us out of our lethargy.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. What is the role of any creative and how can it even help? I’m not sure of the appropriate answer. I don’t know if there is an appropriate answer. I suppose it is to constantly challenge what seems to be ‘normal’. And to talk about it repeatedly and maybe debate with people that don’t agree with you (in a sane friendly way). It’s also important to find humour as relief sometimes.
An art page I follow online called Stephan Ellcock shared historical artworks, astrological charts and other artwork made by Muslims when the Muslim ban was first announced as a challenge and a response to it. Museum of Modern Art changed their artworks to feature those made by Muslims, particularly those from countries banned as per the executive order. Creative protest banners and artwork mobilising active responses have also similarly come forward. Some of these things were really inspiring.
Some of the recent events are incredibly complex and nuanced. I think the best way for the creative community to become a part of this conversation is for it to remain engaged and help push through long-term dialogue. — Akhila Krishnan
Artist and lecturer of Art History in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
When the ban was first issued a few weeks ago, I was not shocked at all. And although my country was not on the list, I considered myself unwanted like the rest. To me, the ban only gave a legal cover to this long-lived psychological barrier in the face of difference in all aspects of life, not just religious. Growing up as a Saudi woman, with all the connotations that entails, I was constantly exposed to a series of scrutinizing comments and questions by those who claimed to “know what is best for us”. These were not necessarily non-Saudis or non-Muslims, but people who are deeply convinced that ‘one size fits all’.
Sometimes their comments were intended as compliments, such as, “I cannot believe you are a Saudi!” or “You look like a Western,” but they were actually insults as they questioned my identity. This scrutiny pushed me at an early age to question my surroundings and myself. With time, it became the driving force for my art. As time went by, I turned this art of self-scrutiny into a game, where I would invite others to join me and stand in my shoes. The final outcome of every project was never an answer that solves the troubling question I asked, but the realization that we need to figure out ourselves first before we attempt to understand what we see. Only this will give provide reassurance in these times.
Therefore, I invite those who dream to live in a tolerant and safe world, to take the initiative and turn this scrutiny into a positive experience; to create more spaces that allow others to practice the ‘Art of Self-Scrutiny’ through the medium of their choice, and help them discover who they are. Only then, we can feel safe as we will free ourselves from all these voices in our head that raise million of flags every time we see someone different. Only then, we will understand that ‘one size does not fit all’.
Artist and writer from California
In the state of our world today, especially in the United States with the inauguration of President Trump — passivity is dangerous. People like Muslim Americans will be prejudiced against and most likely subject to violence due to the implementation of orders like the Muslim Ban. Images, especially visual art like photographs and paintings, are some of the greatest peaceful weapons we have. They carry and convey important messages without words and allow people, sometimes unconsciously, to come together under a common cause without injury. Pictures also have a way of making people feel loved and needed in a way that words sometimes cannot. We, as artists, should try to create beauty and safety from despair.
Personally my own practice works with real life events/incidents as source material to create work. I think reflecting on and holding a mirror to life is really important in artistic work, it keeps you connected to life and to people. Some of the recent events are incredibly complex and nuanced. I think the best way for the creative community to become a part of this conversation is for it to remain engaged and help push through long-term dialogue. I think one off posters and reactions are well and good, but I also think they cannot be part of the process of changing mindsets or supporting people in the long term.
I recently discovered an online series called ‘The Secret Life of Muslims’ that profiles and interviews young Muslims in the world today. The idea is to explode stereotypes we have come to associate with the religion in a meaningful, truthful, real and engaging way. I think they are amazing. Some might argue they are simplistic but I think just the subjects they have had so far combined with the openness and simplicity of the format is very powerful. I hope they will continue to interview people. I think longer term projects like this are the best way for us to engage with what is happening in the world right now. So we all need to work towards them.
You can read the rest of the Issue 1 here.