It will take a moment for the skeptics to realize the vital impact of the social media on the global political scene. We can forever argue that arts activism on social media does not bring real changes and that the people in need are still in need at the end of the day. The fast pace of social media does not reflect the timeframe in which events are occurring. Moreover, it is hard to deny the strong impact social media has with campaigns such as #BlueForSudan and #BlackLivesMatter and more recently #StopAAPIHate.
Action and awareness are two different approaches to activism. To become active in a movement, one needs to reach this sense of awareness that is mentioned previously. It requires for one to develop a sense of empathy, but also a sense of cosmopolitanism. The time when we feel distanced from faraway suffering is over, we all can join a movement beyond borders. All issues echo in one’s mind to a certain degree. Cosmopolitanism opened the doors to universality. If one is suffering, everyone can become aware of it. And one person, like Joshua Wong with the umbrella movement, is sometimes enough to put the spotlight on a whole country’s suffering.
While the reality of the oppressed is to survive each day, the duty of an art activist is to continually shed light on these events from a direct or indirect perspective. As much as the impact can be immediate and viral like BLM, some fights take longer. Considering arts activism on social media as ineffective is paradoxical. If the silent and oppressed are still oppressed tomorrow, does it really mean that the artists activists are failing at their tasks?
A multifaceted fight for artists activists
Artists have been fighting to break the white cube’s closed circle since the early 1960s. In 1986, Brian O’Doherty wrote in Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space that “for better or worse [The white cube] is the single major convention through which art is passed. What keeps it stable is the lack of alternatives” – that shows the omnipotence of the art industry. Artists of the 21st century have found social media as shapeshifting platforms, in which they can freely display their work to a certain extent.
While Arts still prosper in a capitalistic and restrictive system, the social media brought a neutral alternative in which artists can display their creations and discuss issues without having the burden of bending to the self-sufficient norms of the art industry. Being tough on artists, creators usually start their journey by being hammered that only a handful of them would “make it” without ever really being explained why. This lack of space and the intensive selection that new artists have to go through pushes these young creators to platforms in which they can directly address their audience and followers. No one can be fighting for space on the infinite internet, activisms and arts become one entity that creators can use more or less directly.
They also gather an amount of information and research that are available to the followers while being often hidden to the public by traditional media sources. Their fight for recognition takes roots in what they produce and where they display it. On social media, they have a space to criticise the overall arts industry while also addressing issues in order to create attention towards marginalised communities. These platforms have become the perfect bridge for arts, activism and cosmopolitanism. The voiceless and the oppressed can find places and representatives to carry their story to the public. In some circumstances, these voiceless people won’t even be able to witness the global efforts as they can be restricted from basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of press and of course a restricted and controlled access to the internet.
There is no such thing as “passive activism”, a voice is a voice
The inequalities can sometimes be so deep that the fight has to be led by others, somewhere else. The fight is violent enough to make one’s days about surviving and the work of arts activism is to display the events. When it cannot be about directly supporting the streets and when it is not possible to financially participate in the cause, it can come down to reporting, sharing, talking and even praying.
Asma Ghanem is an artist born in Damascus, Syria and is based in Ramallah, Palestine. While being an established artist in the traditional sense of the industry, she is also active on social media. She explains that it “is very important to also make it available for everyone to see your art, not only people who can attend galleries or museums. Mostly I’m using Instagram, Facebook, SoundCloud, and recently I started NFT.”
While preparing her many upcoming exhibitions in Ramallah, as well as a fashion line, she regularly posts her work online to offer a chance to everyone to discover her arts. “I talk about important subjects such as wars, occupation in Palestine, love & sexual relations in that condition, fiction in war and other things”. By painting about these themes, making music, animations and more, her desire is to enlighten the world about these lives being lived in warzones. Such life cannot be changed in a day, but her search for freedom is “a continuous act. Especially as a Palestinian female artist who is independent but also believes in community power” she says. Her decision is to live and create in Palestine, determined to show that “Palestine is where I make all this, I don’t need to change that because social media made it easier to have your own stage”.
“I’ve always had my voice within me, social media only helped in other ways to promote my art to get a bigger audience worldwide.”
When an event is considered redundant for the audiences, it is sometimes just left behind. The digital age brought the possibility for anyone to report news even when traditional media sources are not. When support from the media on site is not provided, or even basic protection “locals started using social media to get the attention of the world”, Asma explains. On top of being used to simply talk about events such as the occupation of Palestine, she also approaches arts as a spiritual medium. Indirectly she teaches us that life entangles itself in femininity, beauty, colours and love. Arts and activism will always be directly and indirectly bonded as they both inherently question the world.
Sabrine Tabet / @cheesytab