During the apartheid struggle, activists used various artistic means to communicate and express the plight of our country and its people.
Struggle songs such as Senzeni na and theatre productions like Sarafina! and Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country mobilised the domestic and international communities to end the social, political and economic divisions in South Africa.
It goes without saying that the combination of art and activism can have powerful results, as they are built on the same premise of exposing hidden truths through creative communication.
Artivism, a term coined by the millennials, is not a new phenomenon and is making a strong comeback in youth activism today. With the assistance of social media, artivism has become a popular form of protest, in particular in the climate change movement.
As a climate justice activist, I often find it difficult to mobilise my peers around issues relating to the environment. Hunger, unemployment, corruption, racism and transformation are usually the preferred talking points. It is also seemingly difficult to “compete” for media and public attention in civil society as we all believe our own individual causes are the most pressing issues plaguing society. Corruption and racism are seen as man-made problems and deserve the most attention, whereas people believe climate change is out of their control.
There is no democracy regarding the change in climate, so the notion is to leave these issues to a higher power who created Earth or celebrity green soldiers like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio to fix it. A typical example recently has been my Facebook timeline, which has been flooded (forgive the pun) with posts to Pray for Rain as South Africa experiences the hottest year in the past two decades, with many areas suffering from water shortages and drought.
By all means, prayers are powerful in some communities, but what we have to realise is that climate change is a man-made problem and deserves the attention of the masses.
Many climate change movements have difficulty in attracting support for their cause due to the scientific way in which statistics and theories are communicated.
For this reason, artivism has become a popular means in our movement to communicate the urgency of this crisis. Young artivists across the world are coming together to address climate change through different artistic mediums – the spoken word, poetry, music, theatre and the visual arts. These artivists have been more than successful in bringing the youth’s attention to climate change.
Last year, 350 Africa brought together leading South African artists like Lebo Mashile, BLK JKS, Word N Sound Collective, Nova Masango and Nicole Daniella for the #WeLeadYou campaign, where they spoke about issues of climate justice through their art.
In 2013, Greenpeace commissioned a powerful ballet titled The Dying Swan, which highlighted the issue of fracking.
American rapper and activist Prince Ea illustrates the plight of Earth through a spoken-word video called Dear Future Generations: Sorry. In this powerful piece, he apologises to the next generation for plundering Earth and its resources, and aptly notes that “the thing about the truth is, it can be denied, but not avoided”.
Another up-and-coming young artivist is South Africa-born Aaliya Kara, a spoken-word poet who recently performed a piece on climate change at a 350 Africa event, titled Until You Let Her Go. This performance led Kara to be selected to inspire climate change action, from South Africa to across the world, in light of the COP21 negotiations in Paris.
Artivists can play a major role in the future of climate justice movements as they revive the use of art to address social justice issues. Our hope is that environmental art grows in its ability to have the same disruptive nature as social and political art. The common language of the world is, and has always been, art and we aim to unite people in solidarity against the climate criminals.