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A Brief History of Artivism

While the term artivism (a hybrid of the words “art” and “activism”) is relatively new, the use of public art to call attention to social inequality and injustice has a very long history. Artivism encompasses a wide variety of art mediums, including mural, sculpture, and spoken word.

Art was a powerful tool used by activists during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Many Black artists emerged at this time and created works that explored both the history and culture of African Americans in the United States, as well as racial inequality under Jim Crow. These artists influenced public perception of African Americans and fostered solidarity in the Black community during this time of intense and often violent divisiveness. Artists like Jae Jarrel used traditional methods of sewing to create works that simultaneously celebrated African American culture and called for liberation.

Jae Jarrel and one of her fabric works at the Brooklyn Museum

The earliest use of the term “artivism” has been attributed to the Chicanos of East Los Angeles, who popularized the term through public art projects and events in the late 1990s. Since then, the term has been adopted by artists and art collectives around the world who are calling attention to inequality and oppression through their creative expressions. A recent example of artivism is the REDress Project, started by Métis artists Jaime Black. The public art installation project draws attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of North America through the display of empty red dresses.

Artivism has a long and powerful history in this country, especially when it comes to issues of racial and gender inequality. Artivism is a unique form of activism in that it promotes civic engagement and education through the use of creative expression. Currently, artivism is a major component of activism in social movements. Be sure to check out Art and Resistance Through Education’s (ARTE) website for a list of currently working woman artivists who are doing incredible social justice work through creative expression.

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