Art-Making is Liberation Praxis
In his memoir, “My Song,” Harry Belafonte wrote, “I wasn’t an artist who’d become an activist. I was an activist who’d become an artist.” Me too.
Writing has been my tool of self-expression, healing, and freedom for as long as I can remember. Since I was child, my diaries and journals have been filled with rants, poetry, monologues, and musings that are my truest unedited reflections on life. I never considered myself an artist or a writer, though. I was a girl growing up with strong opinions about what was right and wrong in the world — in my world, in particular. My writing provided a space to make sense of things I’d experienced and to practice naming them.
As an adult, my indignation in response to sexual and intimate partner violence led me into a world where people committed their lives to righting the wrongs I wrote about on my pages. I chose activism as my life’s work and have never looked back.
I began to see my written words as art, the writing of them as practice, and the sharing of those words as liberation work.
About four years ago, while I was working on campaigns to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure affirmative opportunity in communities of color in Baltimore, words failed me. I had lost the ability to access my most familiar tool to process everything I was experiencing in that work, so I picked up a paintbrush instead. The practice of art-making with a new medium — of making truths visible, of creating beauty out of pain, of boldly creating images of bodies and faces that society is content to relegate to the invisible – changed what I thought about my writing. I began to see my written words as art, the writing of them as practice, and the sharing of those words as liberation work.
Since that time, I have found community among artist-activists who live and breathe the blurring of the line between these forms of change-making. Building community with others who value art-making as liberation praxis has deepened my commitment to social justice. There is no movement without artists.
There is no movement without artists.
Move to End Violence has invited Movement Makers and our organizations to explore a culture of practice. I believe art-making is liberation praxis. We use the arts in two important ways to accomplish HopeWorks‘ mission: (1) to support survivors in their healing, and (2) to imagine creative solutions to bring about social change.
Artistic expression is a tool for liberation that taps into a deep pool of expertise that we don’t always think of applying to the work of transforming one’s life after violence or transforming our communities and society to prevent violence. HopeWorks’ arts programs provide an opportunity for survivors and community members alike to tap into their creative potential for personal and social transformation.
When art and activism come together, the voices of those most impacted by violence and injustice are amplified. And when we can clearly see the impact of injustice in our society, we get a better picture of the solutions we need to create change and beloved community.