To help start the conversation and keep the focus of this discussion thread, please consider the following questions:
- Share your examples of successful (or unsuccessful) uses of cultural resistance in defending and promoting human rights.
- How was cultural resistance used? What were the steps?
- What lessons did you learn that you could pass along to other practitioners interested in this tactic?
- Why was this tactic success or unsuccessful?
Share your experiences, thoughts, ideas and questions by adding a comment below or replying to existing comments!
One Million Bones is a US-based arts-activism project intended to raise questions about genocide and mass violence worldwide (and we also raise money for survivors). We engage community members in creating handmade bones of clay--evidence of crimes occurring all around us--and also in creating Bones installations. Our intention is to install 1,000,000 bones on the National Mall in May of 2013. I will be posting more about One Million Bones during the week, meanwhile, here (http://youtu.be/KrLrjuS4q0M) is a link to an installation of 50,000 bones in New Mexico in 2011. Naomi Natale is the founding artist of the project; I am an organizer with One Million Bones Florida (and I currently have about 10,000 bones in my house.)
Thanks, Jane, for sharing this introduction to the One Million Bones project! I am eager to learn more, such as:
A powerful aspect of this intiative is the participatory nature of it - that you encourage communities from all over the United States to participate in this action by creating bones made of clay. How important is the community contribution to the success of the project? Thanks, Jane!
Just today we got official confirmation that we will be bringing our 1,000,000 bones to the national mall as an astonishing visual petition against state violence and genocide--and the US policies that may contribute to them.
Something really powerful about this project is how important community is. Community is critical in making bones, and community is also critical in creating the installations, as you can see from this video of Albuquerque http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=KrLrjuS4q0M. Part of what I love about the project is that we deal with so many communities: high schools, Jewish groups, Veterans, at-risk youth, the homeless. How individuals connect to this concern about mass violence and genocide takes many, many shapes.
A local artist and myself started a nonprofit peace art museum/gallery that specializes in the art of peace. We started in 2009 and are still going strong. Our humble institution is a member of the International Network of Museums for Peace.
It has been a very interesting learning experience, and artists have been very forthcoming in presenting works for exhibitions. So much so that we have been able to put together in house exhibitions for loan to schools and institutions so that we can get better exposure of their message.
At our website, www.missingpeaceart.org, there is a page that has examples of past exhibitions so you can get an idea of the artwork that we have had.
We have also worked with local schools to get student involvement in art for peace projects.
We provide an artistic forum for exploring issues of peace and violence in a tolerant, non-commercial environment.
In the world's current polarized atmosphere it is important to recognize that the concepts of "truth" and "being right" can be ideas that drive us apart.
Often a "truth" may be only as true as the moment or place that it is experienced in.
Art is an excellent medium for allowing us to experience that moment and see the world through the eyes of other people.
Wonderful insight, Steve - thanks for sharing this! The ability of art to show us new and different perspectives is another example of the power of artistic and cultural expression in human rights work.
Thanks a lot for sharing, very interesting, and I really enjoyed going through the website and looking at the old exhibitions. It's great to see work displayed from such a diverse group of artists and it's an excellent way to ensure exposure to a broader audience.
In the topic What is creative cultural resistance and why use it? some interesting issues came up; the need to reflect on why certain people's voices are heard while others aren't, as well as the interests, opinions and sensitivities of the communities activists work with, directly or indirectly through, public art and interventions.
I would be very interested in learning more on how your art museum/gallery deals with this issue?
Peaceful wishes Jose
Reclaim the Streets was probably the best movement of cultural resistance i've experienced - it combined creativity of all kinds with practical direct action.
an overview Reclaim The Streets!
the original site
Reclaim The Streets!Reclaim The Streets!Reclaim The Streets!
Our group, Puppet Underground, is based out of Washington, DC and supports community organizing with puppet-building, show-making, creative strategy consulting, among other things.
Last November we worked closely with organizers who were planning an illegal occupation of the abandoned Franklin School, a building that had housed a homeless shelter until the mayor shut it down a few years ago. They wanted to call attention to the practice of the city gov't to sell public buildings like the Franklin School to private developers, while demanding that the redistribution of public property should meet community needs.
We organized Occupy Kabaret Street, a roving cabaret that served as a cover action for the occupation. We led an audience to different sites near the Franklin School that had social movement history relating to other past occupations. The final location was in front of the Franklin School and hosted a show about the history of the building. At a dramatically timed moment toward the end of the show, a forty foot banner reading “Public Property Under Community Control” dropped from Franklin’s roof and the show ended with the announcement that Franklin was now occupied. A statement from the occupiers was read and an after-party commenced with pie-eating (OccuPie!) and music to support the activists inside the building.
The cabaret's goals were layered: to engage our audiences in a performance that served a larger purpose to local social justice work, to creatively provide the story (and local significance) of the Franklin School building so the revelation of the occupation held more meaning, and to provide witnesses and support to the occupation. It was really successful in that it met all of its goals and people loved the experience. The process of it was effective, too: we organized the cabaret separately from the main organizing of the occupation, but checked in regularly with the organizers to make sure we were meeting their needs while honoring the responsibility we had to our audience and performers (none of whom knew about the finale ahead of time). It worked really well.
Thanks, Janelle and Susanna, for sharing this action with us! I'm so glad you shared the action, the goals and the impact - wonderful information! This action was meant to call attention to an issue (in this case, the practice of city gov't selling public buildings to private developers) as well as a call for more action (demanding the redistribution of public property to meet community needs). It's also a great example of success collaboration.
I wonder if you can share a few take-aways or lessons-learned from this action. What makes a success CuR collaboration? What would others need to know before implementing a similar action?
PS I LOVE the "OccuPie"!
Thanks, everyone, for sharing such great examples of CuR in practice! Keep the stories coming!
I wanted to share an example of the use of finger puppets by Masasit Mati, a group of young artists from Syria. They call their finger puppet series "Top Goon - Diaries of a Little Dictator". Here's an excerpt from their website explaining their work:
Top Goon – Diaries of a Little Dictator is a web-based series that uses comedy and satire to lampoon President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime’s response to the popular uprising in the country. Using finger puppets to avoid being identified by the regime, the artists behind Syria’s most daring revolutionary theatre use political satire to expose the regime’s violent strategy of oppressing the protests.
“Artist Ali Ferzat had his fingers broken for drawing cartoons of the president. People are shot on the street almost every day simply for asking for freedom. So for us to mock the dictatorship we thought the best way was hidden behind a box using finger puppets,” said Masasit Mati.
“In this context puppets are ideal as they can shrink the regime’s over-inflated personalities and allow you to play with them. The idea was to break down the wall of fear. When you see the shabih, the regime thug, or the president as puppets, you can’t take them seriously anymore.”
To me, this speaks to Noam's point of "the power of cultural expression to visualize and critique the absurdity of oppression and offer an alternative vision to existing political reality." This also reminds me of the powerful use of humor in CuR tactics - take a look at Tactical Tech's video on the use of humor.
What do you think? What is powerful about this tactic? What is transferable to other context? Do you know of other tactics similar to this?
Thanks a lot for sharing, it's a very interesting example I find. What I find interesting about it, is that the artists have found themselves being swept up in the debates that divide Syria's revolutionaries.
Al Jazeera has reported that the Lead writer Arwa is determined to stick to his message of non-violent resistance, while the show's actors, the Malas Brothers, support the Free Syrian Army and are increasingly vocal in their demands for violent revenge upon the regime. (http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/2012/08/2012820111648774405....)
It seems the political reality has divided the makers. However, the director has been able to reconcile them , it seems. The website says:
" While Season II still uses humour and satire to question and challenge the unprecedented upheaval ongoing in Syrian society, many of the 17 episodes, published Sundays on YouTube and Facebook, are darker than before, a direct response to the civil war now threatening to tear Syria apart. "
I think it's a very good example of on the one hand using "the power of cultural expression to visualize and critique the absurdity of oppression", but on the other hand the internal challenges of the artistic group to stay united in the messages conveyed, in order to be able to "offer an alternative vision to existing political reality" .
In Nicaragua, Puntos de Encuentro www.puntos.org.ni oganizes a youth camp every year, this camp is to help young people from all the Central American countries to engage in transformative dialogue accross differences of gender, sex, race, disabilities, sexuality, age and others and to also build alliances against all forms of discrimination and violence. For several years the camp included organizing a parade on the streets of one of our main cities, the objective of the parade was for young people to have a public voice against dicrimination and to celebrate diversity, all done in a playful and artisitic manner. Previous to the parade, the participants worked with an artist/facilitator in the production of a piece suc as theater, dance, murals and others. This piece was later performed or displayed at the parade. Now, noticed that I have said that we used to include this parade in the camp, this is because this year the mayor of the city didn´t allow us to do the parade because they percived our work to be in political opposition and the poltical party in the government pretend to own the streets. So, here in Nicaragua, we are dealing with a new dictatorship and I think that this dialogue is giving some good ideas about cultural resistance. Thanks to everyone for sharing. Ruben
Thanks for this story, Ruben. I think alot of us have faced censorship of some kind at one point or another, and even possibly severe consequences for being public with our art and our messages-- Sometimes this forces us to make a campaign around freedom of expression rather than, or in addition to, the actual issue based work we would like to focus on-- and sometimes that is a good thing, sometimes just seems a waste of resources...
Often, limits from authorities can spur us to greater creativity if we can get past the anger and fear that can come along with the threats they throw at us! If we are not allowed to have a parade in the street, is it possible to have small performances all along what might have been the route in buildings, restaurants, parking lots that are private property? Is it possible to make a video of what would have happened, and then project it at night onto the side of the Mayor's house, making it very big and public? Is there an add campaign of posters or images in the local newspaper that would confront the limits or regulations? Would it be possible to have things floating above the streets, or would publicizing the new limits serve to embarrass the mayor and help him change his mind? What would happen if you did go ahead with the parade? would they arrest you ( and how would you be dressed? ) if arrests are not too risky, how could you dress to make the arrest appear completely foolish? If the arrests are too risky, think about some more low level related activity-- dispersed groups of performers, or posters, or stencils or outdoor slide shows ( like the videos, but even easier!). Or maybe its possible to look like you are not a parade, but in fact are-- perhaps herding donkeys or cows down the street, and maybe even having slogans on them...it can be quite fun to think of these alternatives-- esp'ly trying to incorporate messages that resonate in your own culture/language/political scene.
Human Rights abuses and violations are often invisible-- hidden from sight intentionally ( buried, done in secret), hidden from sight because of cultural lenses and ideology, hidden from sight simply because of geographic distance or physics/chemistry. The first piece of work then is to make the HR issues visible.
I have thought about this alot in environmental and social contexts... Poisons from nuclear weapons or power are physically invisible; devastation from mountain top removal often immensely far from those who use the power generated from the mountain's coal, and injustice of segregated or class divided school systems or restaurants blocked out by the dominant cultures racism.
here is a short piece about this from Beautiful Trouble, http://beautifultrouble.org/principle/make-the-invisible-visible/
Many injustices are invisible to the mainstream. When you bring these wrongs into full view, you change the game, making the need to take action palpable.
check out this beautiful Amnesty International video-- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgJPPEK3Vrg
i think one idea of the Bones project is essentially that of making the costs of war, HR abuses, visible and tangible-- to open up dialogue and room for action.
I agree nadine "Many injustices are invisible to the mainstream. When you bring these wrongs into full view, you change the game, making the need to take action palpable." But I wonder how visible things need to be for people to act? All around the world every day images are being made of atrocities, are these images simply adding to the masses of unfathomable stories, causing further numbness among us, or are they prompting real social change?
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant -
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our inform Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man (sic) be blind
Very interesting questions-- I hear what you are saying, that the devastation, and downright evilness that faces us can incapacitate -- not inspire, and that we should be careful about adding to that depressing pile. Martin Luther King once said something that I will grossly paraphrase here that leads towards one answer-- When confronted by a news reporter that accused him of 'creating the problems' with the civil rights protests, he replied that, in fact, the injustices have been there all along, and they were merely exposing them to the light of day...
So-- despite the actrocities we know about, there are, sometimes, still appropriate moments for more bad news if you will-- and i think that taking direction from the front line or impacted communities in what is appropriate to talk about is critical and figuring out what and how to expose... many people struggle in silence, and witness the potential success ( or at least popularity ) of the "It Gets Better" Campaign targetting marginalized LGTBQ youth, or many domestic violence support structures, or even currently with the Strike Debt and student and homeowners debt leagues-- debt and the vulnearbility associated with it have been, and continue to be in many places, taboo discussions. If you can't make it visible, than you can't organize and fight. Making yourself visible, offering camaraderie at the very least if not physical support, is the beginning of the struggle, of potential real social change. my 2 cents...
Since we are in the midst of this dialogue, it seems appropriate to mention some examples of cultural resistance that I've been working on just this week. I'll start with my day job(s). freeDimensional is a nonprofit organization that provides safe haven for human rights defenders using artist residency vacancies around the world. While still very active with freeDimensional, (an organization that I founded), I'm currently employed by the Global Arts Corps, an organization that creates theatre to advance reconciliation in societies emerging from deadly conflict.
This week is a busy one in NYC, in part b/c it is the anniversary of the Occupy movement. Based on my experience with freeDimensional, I joined with the collective Wooloo to plan out a system for hosting activists who wish to be in NYC as a part of OWS. The Host an Occupier (HaO) initiative is currently matching hosts with occupiers in the city for the #S17 activities.
Another project that is close to my heart is 596 Acres, which was started by artist/lawyer Paula Z. Segal and friends. 596 Acres reminds us all that we deserve green space! If you happen to be in NYC, please do come to our October event.
Lastly, I want to tell you about a writing project (and opportunity) for cultural resisters who tie their work to policy change. Illuminating the Arts-Policy Nexus is a blog series by the World Policy Institute on how artists have led policy change and how policymakers can use creative strategies. Please feel free to submit a piece to the series ... there are so many good examples here in this dialogue that should be shared with broader and broader audiences. Just tell me if you're interested and we can connect offline.
Parking day is another interesting green space initiative: http://parkingday.org/
Some of my current favorite examples of creative cultural resistance come from history, and in particular from the movement fighting Pinochet in Chile. In an incredibly repressive regime, in a relatively sexist society, the women, by default and by planning, took on critical roles in the resistance. Women were not alone in their resistance , of course ( there is, for example, the unforgettable time where there was a call for a strike at Chile's Copper mines, and when the mines were surrounded by the Military and it was clear the bloodshed would be too great a cost to bear, the miner's strike was called off, replaced by a creative call for mass, dispersed, low level action-- at 8 pm at nite, those supportive of the resistance would bang pots and pans in their homes! very low bar to participate, very hard to stop, very low risk for wide participation.... today's Casseroles in Quebec can be traced back to this protest, i believe...)
But about the women--- as many men were disappeared, tortured, imprisoned, and as the economy worsoned, the women fell back on a traditional craft, a kind of quilted tapestry called arpilleras. These were stitched of rags and scraps, often in church basements. Disregarded as inconsequential women’s work, it was possible to smuggle and sell these beautiful quilts both into and out of jails, and outside of Chile — moving information to sons and husbands, and spreading news beyond the borders even when a suppressed press corps could not. This galvanized anti-Pinochet sympathizers globally and resulted in both financial and political support for the resistance.
The time spent together also built cultures of resistance and support where there hadn't been before, and encouraged both work against the regime and work against the sexist parts of the society that impacted these women. This is just one example of their using a craft, as well as a cultural prejudice, as well as a desire to provide for their families and make income, in a way to support change... If we can find a piece of our collective culture that can fill a needed strategic function, everything is so much better off!
Thank you for sharing this, Nadine! Indeed, it is ideal when we can find a piece of our existing collective culture that can fill a needed strategic function and strengthen the cultures themselves.
Not to take us too far off-topic, but your comment about the low level action with pots and pans caught my attention:
New Tactics has published a case study on a similar kind of action from Turkey called A Call to End Corruption: One Minute of Darkness for Constant Light.
In this notebook, we read about how mass numbers of people – 30 million people – in Turkey turned off and on their lights to demand that the government act against corruption. The Campaign of Darkness for Light gave people an easy and no-risk action everyone could take – simply turning off their lights at the same time each evening – and thus show their displeasure with the system. Such a simple action – a flick of the switch – and yet when people saw that their neighbors had turned off their lights, too, they felt the power of their collective voices and began to invent their own ways to speak out by gathering on the streets, marching and banging pots and pans. This deceptively simple tactic carried out in a mass numbers sent a powerful signal that the public was calling for an end to corruption in Turkey.
These low level, low risk actions are powerful tactics and can be combined with creative cultural resistance.
In line with Allan Sekula, an artist and theorist working in photography and film, I'm interested in different ways to make socially-engaged art practices. At the beginning of his article 'Dismantling Modernism; Reinventing Documentary (on the Politics of Representation)' (1976), Sekula writes: “Suppose we regard art as a mode of human communication, as a discourse anchored in concrete social relations, rather than as a mystified, vaporous, and ahistorical realm of purely affective expression and experience. Art, like speech, is both symbolic exchange and material practice, involving the production of both meaning and physical presence. Meaning, as an understanding of that presence, emerges from an interpretive act. Interpretation is ideologically constrained. Our readings of past culture are subject to the covert demands of the historical present. Mystified interpretation universalizes the act of reading, lifting it above history.”
I'm interested in your thoughts on different ways we can make socially-engaged art, that goes beyond the bourgeois elitist art-world, that is actually relevant for communities/individuals connected to the work, or to the issue/s. And what is it's function in this context?
How do individuals create a practice that gives agency to their subject/s & issue/s as well as make it interesting/effective to the wider populus & is this necessary?
Sekula's most recent work "The Forgotten Space" is a film essay which uses the Marxist analysis of going underneath the surface; in this case the idea of the shipping container, the global trade, to show the reality that the sea is the most forgotten space of all. The film explores the working systems that hold up the trade and idea of the loss of the romantic working relationship with the ocean. - In this film he is truly looking toward making an overtly Marxist film, "to show that the crisis tendencies of capitalism are on the table" and to show the unseen 'Labor' - something that is always functioning but always invisible.
Hi dialoguers! I'd like to invite you to participate in something quite related to what we're talking about regarding Cultural Resistance.
The Mantle, an online forum the promotes emerging voices from around the world, will publish a roundtable that asks: what is the role of the artist in a conflict zone? This is the third in a series; the first two featured writers and musicians. Read more about past and future Round Tables here.
I've ruminated on a similar point elsewhere in this dialogue in the thread: What are the challenges, risks and new opportunities for cultural resistance?
I wanted to raise your awareness - perhaps you know it already - on the Israel Loves Iran website/ campaign: http://www.israelovesiran.com/
I find it an interesting campaign to open up lines of communication and for people to share stories, images, and their faces.
Through the page conversations between Israelis and Iranians and people from the whole middle east have started talking about culture, sport, politics, discovering each other and making new friendships.
The website explains how it was started:
"My name is Ronny Edry (41). I’m a graphic designer, a teacher and I live in Tel Aviv Israel. When nations talk constantly about war, it’s our duty, as people, as citizens, to rise up, to raise our voices and to make sure that we have done everything in our power to prevent the worst. And we have great power. With today’s technology and tools we no longer have to wait to make peace.
On March 14 I put a poster up on the net with a picture of me and my daughter holding the Israeli flag.
The poster said: “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We love you”.
To the poster I attached a letter addressed to the Iranian people sharing my wish to stop the war coming with Iran, to get to know the other side and start a conversation."
Thanks everyone for sharing! The posts thus far have been fascinating and so inspiring.
I have had the opportunity to spend some time in Northern Ireland and study a well-known example of cultural resistance, the Bogside Murals in Free Derry Corner in Derry, Northern Ireland. The series of murals, the first of which was completed in 1994, are known as the People’s Gallery and depict the events surrounding the Troubles in Northern Ireland. http://www.bogsideartists.com/Flash02/
In many ways, the murals are a successful example of cultural resistance and change, and have had a lasting effect on the neighborhood they reside in, the Bogside. Once the Good Friday agreement was signed and a ceasefire put into effect, tourists began to trickle back in to Northern Ireland. The murals became a tourist destination, and as more visitors visited the sites, residents of the neighborhood began to clean up the area which had for so long essentially been a warzone. However, many see the murals as too partisan, reflecting only one side of the Troubles. The artists maintain that the murals are intended to be a “human document” rather than a political or unbiased statement.
What I think is especially interesting is the way in which the murals are currently used to tell the story of Derry’s tumultuous past. The nearby Museum of Free Derry offers a walking tour which narrates the story of Free Derry with the murals as a backdrop. However, the tour concludes at a mural which highlights a particularly tragic incident of the Troubles, which leaves tourists with a sense of intense division that still remains between the two sectarian communities. However, the artists of the murals themselves also offer a walking tour, which concludes at their final mural, depicting a peace dove surrounded by an oak leaf (the symbol of the city) to indicate moving towards a peaceful and unified future.
Permanent public art (as opposed to something like performance art) is an interesting method of cultural resistance. That is, it can be adopted to have multiple meanings and complex uses for different groups and individuals. While this example differs from many in this conversation, arts within the context of transitional justice and post-conflict society also represent unique approach to reclaiming different truths within a past, and moving into the future.
-Maja Gamble (New Tactics Intern)
As we wrap up the final day of our dialogue, I wanted to share with you an example of a CuR initiative in which I am now involved -- indeed it's what's kept me from being more vocal on this platform over the last few days!
In less than two weeks, on Oct. 2, 2012, Alhoush will be launching THIS IS also GAZA: A Celebration of Contemporary Visual Arts from the Gaza Strip, in Amman, Jordan. A groundbreaking exhibition of the work of 38 Gazan painters, photographers, filmmakers, and video artists, THIS IS also GAZA tells the story of the *other* side of Gaza -- the one we don't see in the news. See our video teaser for the event.
For the last half-century and longer, Gaza has been viewed almost exclusively – both regionally and internationally – through the camera lens of war, occupation, in-fighting, and humanitarian strife. Through an innovative cross-disciplinary program of art displays, film showings, live public discussion, and musical performance (encompassing many of Nadine's methods of creative cultural resistance), THIS IS also GAZA aims to challenge that over-determined, over-politicized image, and to shed a spotlight on the extraordinary resilience, creativity, ambition, and community that define the next generation in Palestinian art.
Emerging Gazan artists reappropriate occupation's material and social consequences with bravado and wit to give life to new, highly dynamic, culturally hybrid forms of expression. In the very broadest terms, then, Alhoush's exhibition is designed to bring to the forefront art's immense power to mediate, integrate, and generate fresh cultural narratives – the lifeblood of identity. It also makes a comment on the capacity of postmodernist art to be sincere as well as subversive. In the context of aesthetic discourses, the art in this show represents a wonderful act of resistance to the often nihilistic, hedonistic, and simply vacuous use of subversion in the postmodernist art of comfortable societies. It is also an excellent example of Nadine's concept of "re-connection" as Gazan artists develop strategies of artistic self-reliance that require them to *quite literally* remake the world around them.
Taking the spirit of crossing thresholds, resisting unjust borders, and making the invisible visible one step further, one of the main objectives of THIS IS also GAZA is to bring several artists – physically – from Gaza to Amman. As most Gazans remain trapped and hidden on the wrong side of apartheid walls and security checkpoints, Alhoush's exhibition will allow a few of Gaza's artists, and many more of its artworks, to cross international borders and bear witness to the powerful transnational identities emerging within the Strip.
Finally, panning out to our discussion of the relationship of tactics to larger strategy, THIS IS also GAZA will not just display and discuss contemporary artwork from Gaza – it will promote and sell it. Alhoush advocates merging tactics from cultural and economic development in order to nurture a more concretely supportive, vibrant, and sustainabile regional and international ecosystem for Arab art. In other words, we firmly believe that the best way to empower Arab artists is by allowing them to earn a decent living from their work, and we see the culture-meets-commerce dimension of our mission as a grassroots strategy that allows us to resist the fate of many international arts organizations involved in Palestine and the Arab world, whose nonprofit statuses often make them dependent on international aid, subject to donor agencies' political agendas, and vulnerable to the whims of foreign policies and priorities in transition.