Protest art has been practiced throughout history, especially serving the anti-war movement in the mid-20th century. Today, art has become a powerful and international language to speak against all forms of human rights violations, along with other activism. For example, during the Arab Spring, the arts were used to make anti-authoritarian statements. The photographer and graphic designer, Nermine Hammam, captures the fundamental frailty of rule by force in the global community in her exhibition Cairo Year One by combining the realities of the conflict with a surreal and idealistic background. Tunisian folk-rock singer Emel Mathlouthi and rapper El General used music to rail against the state brutality and the suffering of Egypt’s youth and working class, which attracted considerable attention from protestors and transformed into a powerful protest song. The protest art of the Arab Spring has since joined a broader dialogue between protest art of the past and present, in mediums as diverse as books, film, performance art, and multimedia.
Arts and cultural resources
Data visualizations can be an incredible resource for human rights defenders, but understanding what data to use, as well as when and how to use data can be an overwhelming and daunting task. As of 2014, IBM found that each day, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created; that is a lot of information to sort and share. A simple online search will yield many statistics stating that humans understand and absorb information faster as visual representation than text-based. Interestingly, a 2010 study by S. Bresciani, et al found that even when accounting for cultural variances “the visual representation of information objectively increases understanding and recall.” In short, taking troves of data that human rights defenders come across in their work, both knowingly and unknowingly, and converting it into visual representations of that data, can be a powerful tool. However, used incorrectly data visualizations can be misleading and, in some instances, harmful or dangerous.
Nigdy Wiêcej (Never Again) uses a number of tactics to carry out its work in Poland. Two of the tactics explained in this case study are the use of cultural resources in the community to recruit activists and the organization of activists into an information-gathering network.
Oulimata Gaye and her organization Réseau Africain pour le Développement Intégré (RADI) break the wall of silence that cloaks violence against women in Senegal. How do we begin to “repair” human rights problems when people will not speak of them? How do we make people talk about them? The tool used here is theater. At times amusing, at times sad, the sketches involve the audience, literally and metaphorically, in familiar situations.
Rebuilding Hope saw the need for an integrated healing process that would allow families and communities to accept child soldiers from Mozambique back into their lives. Acknowledging that traditional healers are often the first people community members approach when they need help, Rebuilding Hope psychologists approached the healers as well as other community leaders to be project partners.
Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), in Bangladesh, has formed Action Theatre groups, or Manobadhikar Natya Parishad (MNP) in villages in twelve areas throughout Bangladesh. Action Theatre is an applied form of theatre that includes a dramatization of a social problem, followed by the participation of the community in identifying potential solutions and then the community moving forward to actually carry out the proposed solutions. Local theatre groups are now gaining ground as a mobilizing force in Bangladesh.
freeDimensional (fD) has developed a creative and collaborative process for using surplus resources to provide assistance and safe haven to culture workers in distress. fD’s worldwide network bridges what are often considered two different worlds - art spaces and human rights organizations. fD’s model inspires ideas for bridging other seemingly incompatible groups and networks in order to further their respective missions while maximizing resources available from each.
Thank you for joining Tactical Tech and the New Tactics online community for an online conversation on Using Humor to Expose the Ridiculous from January 14 to 18. All over the world, activists use humour, irony, satire, parody and lampooning to express dissent and challenge the absurdities of institutional power. Through culture jamming, which embodies all these tactics and more, they interrupt the flow of information controlled by governments, corporations, the advertising industry, media corporations, fundamental religious leaders and other powerful people in society. In doing so, they expose the lies, deceptions and sheer absurdities in their speech.
This online conversation was an opportunity to exchange experiences, lessons-learned and ideas among practitioners using humor to challenge regimes and societies, and provoke citizens to reevaluate the way they think, and sometimes even push them to join them in their campaigns.
Thank you for joining Nadine Bloch and the New Tactics community for this conversation on Cultural Resistance. Cultural resistance is the broad use of arts, literature, and traditional practices to challenge or fight unjust or oppressive systems and/or power holders within the context of nonviolent actions, campaigns and movements. At its core, cultural resistance is a way of reclaiming our humanity, and celebrating our work as individuals and communities. Cultural resistance tactics are particularly powerful because they serve multiple purposes. They inspire us to own our lives and invest in our communities, while building capacity for local leadership. These creative and artistic tactics provide a fun way for people to get involved!