We are living at an important moment, when movements combating racial injustice, climate change, economic inequality, and so many other forms of oppression are capturing global attention. The power of art in these movements should not be underestimated; art has been used as a form of activism throughout history, and often serves as an accessible way to convey messages to those who experience it. Art can mean anything — murals, songs, poetry, anything that stems from individual or collective creativity — and street art can be especially effective as activism.
Street artists around the world have used their work to bring awareness to the structural issues facing their communities and countries. One such artist is JR, an anonymous street artist who started out in Paris and now exhibits his work all over the world in an effort to make people think critically about the lived experiences of others. But even though JR has what one could call the biggest art gallery in the world, he is certainly not the only street artist working toward social change. Here are just a few examples of the work street artists produce in an effort to improve the lives of those around them.
1. "Women Are Heroes" — JR
This project is a collection of portraits of women from many different countries — Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya, Brazil, India, Cambodia — that aims to "highlight the dignity of women who occupy crucial roles in societies, and find themselves victims of wartime, street crime, sexual assault, and religious and political extremism." This project is especially poignant because it captures both the heartbreak and the pride of these women, and reveals that no situation of injustice can continue without nuance.
2. Clarion Alley, San Francisco
Clarion Alley — which is where the header photo for this piece was taken — is a small street in San Francisco's Mission district whose walls are completely covered with art. The murals in Clarion Alley are constantly changing based on the messages that local artists want to convey and the immediate issues facing the community, which is currently experiencing the burdens of gentrification. Murals range from displays of solidarity with Palestine to criticisms of capitalism to support for San Francisco's LGBTQ community.
3. Banksy in Gaza
Banksy is an anonymous British graffiti artist who, in February, managed to slip in and out of Gaza. Dedicating his work to the people of Palestine, Banksy painted three different slabs of rubble that had been left over from Israel's attacks on Gaza last summer. On his website, Banksy said that wanted to use his art to draw attention to the destruction that Gaza experienced, but that he decided to paint the kitten mural because "on the Internet people only look at pictures of kittens.”
Last month, students from Morgan State University’s Visual Arts Department in Baltimore answered JR's call to participate in a global art project called "Inside Out" — a project that invited everyone to share portraits of themselves and messages they believed in — by creating a visual response to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The project sits on the facade of the soon-to-be Open Works, which, according to Popular Resistance, will be "a space meant to serve as an incubator for Baltimore’s creative economy."
5. Other Works
Not every piece of street art is tied to a collective action or claimed by a particular artist. Below are other examples of street art activism that Twitter users have shared.
Fighting Cultural Appropriation
"I Can't Breathe"/#BlackLivesMatter
Amplifying Marginalized Voices
Here's one last piece from Banksy that summarizes the value of street art as a form of activism:
In the fight for social change, street art is an important tool — and maybe, just maybe, it can be used to change the world.
Images: Madhuri Sathish/Bustle (1)