“Artists as Activists”: A Two-Year Anniversary and Farewell

by Saad Ghosn

I have been blessed in the past two years to become familiar with the personal path and reflective artwork of many of our local artists who use their art to speak of themselves; of their values, beliefs, and concerns; of their quest for peace and social justice; of their dreams for a better world. I have been honored to make their voice heard and share it with the many readers of Streetvibes, this journal, through the regular semimonthly column “Artists as Activists” I have been writing since September 2009.

The initial title of my column included in addition, and as subtitle, “Art for Life,” an accurate qualifier I reluctantly, however, had to omit for economy of words. These artists, in fact, perceived and created art not for the sake of art per se, but rather for their own sake, for the sake of their life and that of life in general.

Forty-four visual artists, four poets and writers and one singer/songwriter graciously accepted, through informal exchanges, to reveal themselves, uncover their past and present, and lead us through the meaning and purpose of their creative work. I am very thankful for the special and personalized perspective each offered us. Even though espousing different paths and approaches and using varying means and media, they all aimed through their art at enhancing our humanity, improving society, advancing our world. Their topics were diverse, yet converged in their focus towards freedom, equality, truth, spirituality, understanding, individual rights.

They spoke variably but also in unison for the protection of the abused child; the empowerment of the weak, the oppressed and the “invisible” in our society; the equal and independent rights of women, gays and minorities; the abolishing of wars; an empathic solution to street violence and the negation of all violence; the respect of the environment; the well being of animals; the appreciation of diversity; the peaceful growing of communities.

Most importantly, they pleaded for justice, peace and compassion for every living creature, also for the kind and loving treatment of our mother earth. I had the pleasure week after week to listen to their thoughts, accompany them in their questioning and concerns, become moved and inspired by the strength and power of their creative expression. I had also the privilege to share, and each time with anxious anticipation, my discoveries with you, the reader. I am sad to say, however, that as of this issue, I will not be doing it anymore. This issue celebrates the two-year anniversary of my column, two years of joy, excitement and tribulations, in part thanks to you the readers, many of whom gave me encouragement and reinforcing appreciation along the way. It is time for me to tackle other responsibilities; I have to say goodbye and I will be missing you.

I dare hope, however, that the end of my column is not effectively its end. I would like it and the living example of the many featured artists to have opened a little window, triggered a different change, challenged the daily passive status quo, planted the seeds of an artist activist in each of us. Let these anticipated transformations grow and let us all become the committed persons who will use their talents, whatever they are, to make a difference and contribute to the bettering of this world. The featured artists all along reminded us that this was everyone’s responsibility, that each voice counted, but also that it needed to be nurtured in order to grow loud and strong and add beauty and harmony to the symphony of life.

Living in the United States of America we may be led to believe that our government is the sole actor in the shaping of our politics, and indirectly in deciding the fate of our existence. As engaged citizens, however, we should never forget that our active role can be crucial in determining the direction our country takes, the values and structure our society espouses, the goals we choose for our lives, the messages we send to the rest of the word. We are each responsible in the molding of our flag.

It can be a flag based on material values, money, military control, greed, class divisions and inequities; or on the contrary one reigned by the spiritual values of understanding, sharing, giving, equality, respect and love. The first sadly will lead us to isolation, violence and death, away from our inner self; the latter, on the other hand, to connectedness, community building, = compassion for each other and the environment, justice, peace and harmony. It is our choice to make. It is definitely our call to become activists in the building and shaping of our lives and of life in general.

May the activist artist prevail in each of us! Goodbye, so long, and always, for a better world!!

An anniversary exhibit to include works by the artists who have been featured in the column will take place at the Artisans Enterprise Center (AEC), 27 West 7th Street, in Covington. It opens Friday, August 5, 6 – 10pm (Opening Reception) and closes Friday, September 23, 6-9pm (Closing Party). Regular hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. Please come and visit.