Friday, February 17, 2017

Art and Politics: The Power of Creativity and Activism Across the Globe



Artistic projects of all kinds are so much a part of the fabric of our society/culture and continue to be tremendously inspirational, carrying a strong message and having the ability to resonate with large audiences no matter what the medium. It is this context that makes the work I am engaged in a small but important part of the enormous creative talent that exists throughout the world. I am a strong believer in the fact that in our world today, we are now all inter-connected in ways we never thought possible and that this enables us to change public discourse on critical issues. It of course takes much strength and conviction to create art that can promote transformational social change.

The intersection of arts and political activism are two fields defined by a shared focus of creating engagement that shifts boundaries, changes relationships and creates new paradigms. Both activist and artist work in the challenges of the unknown and the unpredictable, never truly able to determine the outcome and forever questioning if there is more to be done. This experimentation also forms the essence of what can be the engine of success and motivation towards true change whether we are immersed in a specific social cause or a global peace movement, composing an original score, sharing a story by means of carving a sculpture, or using performance to highlight a critical message. Whatever our chosen palette, the practice of understanding the importance of our own creative engagement is a source of potential change on its own, and a space where valuable insight can be found through reflection and sharing.

Art, Religion and Peace and Activism
In conjunction with Religions for Peace and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I have engaged at the intersection of interreligious dialogue and engagement in social action though the arts and other forms of dialogue in the Middle East, the Gulf States, North Africa and the Caucuses, over the course of several trips that took place in the last few years. We spent time with leaders and visionaries in both the UAE and Israel, to discuss our diverse ideas for stability beyond coexistence. In May 2015, I shared a panel in Baku, Azerbaijan for the 3rd World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue to discuss opportunities within dialogue as an influential tool and specifically ways it can be capitalized on as a mechanism for attempting to shift violent extremism.

In 2015 I also collaborated with two significant and powerful arts festivals that showcased globalization for participants that attended from every part of the world. They both actively demonstrated experiential proof of how gatherings such as these can play a powerful role toward achieving and promoting social change.

I was proud to support and promote The Creative Time summit in conjunction with Creative Time Reports as an official partner of the Venice Biennale in 2015. This was the first time the Biennale hosted an arts activism conference of this nature which is significant in itself.

Provocative perspectives from artists from many countries around the world from China to India and from the Middle East to North Africa to Europe congregated at the Summit to air their views on charged political subjects facing our world today such as migration and refugees, conflict zones, terrorism, uprisings and elections, race and integration and women’s rights. These views were streamed to over 50 countries, creating a discussion in real time on how artists engage in voicing their unique point of view and can challenge others to see things in a new light which can speak truth to power. A few strong examples included artist Mariam Ghani in conversation with her father Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan about the current state of affairs post 9/11 and on her project “The Guantanamo Effect,” an interactive digital archive defining and connecting key terms and events in the global war on terror and on the flow of weapons from conflict zones back to the US and its prisons. Another participant was Joshua Wong, the well known and prominent Hong Kong student activist who was the conveyer and founder of the Hong Kong student activist group, demanding equal voting rights from the Chinese in 2014. The 19-year-old has been featured as an important youth leader by both Time Magazine in 2014 and Fortune in 2015.

Music, Culture and Healing
I ended the summer with another equally prominent gathering in Jerusalem which I was proud to be a part of and who I will be working with again in 2016. Jerusalem Season of Culture is now in its sixth year and is an amazing gathering of thousands of Israeli artists and hundreds of other international artists and musicians that congregate in Jerusalem not just to engage Israelis with Palestinians, but the secular and Orthodox communities as well. There are thousands of artistic venues in galleries, museums, historic sites, restaurants, private homes, and broadcasts. The festival has helped to engage the community in the power of art and artists to create transformation and has been successfully used as a tool to dissolve politically charged issues in a city that is otherwise seen by the world as deeply divided. In fact, after the Gaza war in 2014, even though some of the programs were postponed due to security issues, the sacred music festival which is probably the most powerful venue was used as a successful tool to bring people together around healing through music.

Musicians participated from all over the world and nine bands stayed to play despite international boycotts including a Muslim group from Morocco, Orchestre Chabab al Andalous who performed together with a Rabbi in the Old Citadel, singing Andalusian songs in Hebrew and Arabic. A pop up radio station was also created during the conflict to broadcast interviews about the importance of art under fire. Other interesting projects included ones around the history of the Temple Mount and that of Lifta, an abandoned Palestinian village which was successfully and beautifully brought back to life through art, lights and music.

It is programs such as these which very clearly demonstrate how essential it is to push forward through generations of obstacles with ideas and programs that bring people together towards social cohesion rather than division despite the political rhetoric in their country and by their governments.

As I move forward in this new, busy year, I look forward to being an inspirational change agent, pushing forward with more projects that inspire activism, fighting for human rights and building on themes of unity and social actions. Engagement with these opportunities and dedication to these objectives, no matter how complicated and unpredictable will provide the space for creating solutions to the challenges our world is desperately in need of.

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