Artivists fight for ubuntu. Who’s listening?

2010-04-03 11:10

WHAT is the role of the musician, the writer, the poet and the painter in society?

The fact that they were born with a particular talent that they developed and ­excelled in; what does that mean in society?

Are they to focus purely on the social? Must they give voice to ­suffering and pain and speak against oppression in all its forms? Are those the only factors that need voice?

These are the questions that plague me daily. As a writer and poet, I am confronted by the turmoil and anger that surround us daily and I am often paralysed by these questions and others.

In interacting with artists from different backgrounds and art-forms, I do not seem to be alone in this. We all seem to be looking for our place in the general scheme of things.

Often, I look at popular artists in contemporary music and wish for their state of existence. No one seems to expect them to change the world. They can to talk about ‘money, cars and women’.

They can sing about the trivial, rap mediocrity or submerge themselves in self-indulgent bravado at will and the majority do not seem to hold them up to any kind of standard as role-models or examples that others may follow.

In fact, how many times have you heard a popular artist distance themselves, for example, with the weak “I’m just trying to live my life, I’m no role-model” line?”

Or hear rap artists argue that they are merely reflecting their reality, without taking any responsibility for finding a solution?

I often envy these artists but also question whether our responsibility to community, society and ­humanity is about being creative or more about being a human ­being.

I am reading a book called It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop by poet, professor, filmmaker and ­activist MK Asante Jr in which he states that “the idea that the filmmakers, rappers, painters, collagists, photographers, choreographers, and other artists of today – amid the ­arid abundance of desolation and ­despair – can simply show the ills of the world and then avoid personal responsibility behind the thin veneer of ‘I’m just a mirror’ no longer holds weight”.

He talks of the artist + activist = artivist who understands that their role is to use their creativity to speak against the system, to birth love in a time of war.

I have often grappled with the idea that the artist is solely a ‘weapon’ against destruction, ‘chanting down Babylon’, but have concluded that art can do that in so many ways, including the promotion of love, tolerance and balance.

At the same time, it’s primarily about being a human being, on this planet, living with fellow beings. How do we promote a positive ­evolution as people.

We can do this by using the tools we have at our disposal to create a world we can happily leave to our children. The artivist needs to use their art to create awareness and influence change for the better.

The doctor needs to help us be healthier. The teacher needs to help us expand our minds. The ­artist needs to give voice.

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