I wrote the following article on art and social justice for my newsletter a couple of weeks ago for Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. I got a lot of positive feedback from my subscribers and thought you might enjoy it!
The other day, I was enjoying a lovely lunch with my lovely friend, Deann, at one of our favorite Vietnamese restaurants, Tamarind Tree, in Seattle’s International District.
Deann had the crispy Vietnamese crepe, and I ordered their lemongrass grilled tofu. We were catching up on our lives sipping our teas, talking, and listening. It was a late lunch, so the restaurant wasn’t super crowded or noisy.
And then she asked me how I make social justice part of my art practice.
I paused – because #1, I got a tiny pepper flake stuck on my throat and had to cough for like 2 full minutes, and #2 it’s kind of a big question!
Before I became a full-time artist in 2015, I’d worked for an anti-violence social service organization for almost 15 years. Social justice was on my mind all. the. time.
In a way, I didn’t even have to explain what I did to make the world a better place. I’d tell people where I worked, and they’d automatically give me the concerned look and assume I was this selfless angelic person who was fighting evil day in and day out. (Which is partly true, but I also did other things like managing employees’ insurance :D)
Social justice is still very important to me, but without engaging in a tangible direct action every day, it was hard for me to explain how it was part of my creative work.
So after thinking about her question for a few minutes, I described my perspectives on how my value is incorporated in my daily work.
I believe art has the power to unite people no matter where they stand on various political or social issues.
You see a beautiful painting, and your heart aches. Your favorite song about lost love comes on the radio, and you feel a lump in your throat. You read a sci-fi dystopian novel and feel physically ill from the awful things the heroine has to go through.
Art makes you feel. It reminds you that you are human. It can undermine the culture of division.
So that’s how I see my role as an artist in the social justice movement today: I create art to make you feel joy and happiness. I work hard to fill our world with more love, peace, and compassion. Through my art, I want to keep reminding you humanity is not doomed.
I’m curious how you would answer this question. How do you make social justice part of your everyday? If you haven’t had a chance to reflect on this recently or ever, give it a try 🙂
Have a peaceful day, my friend.