I truly believe in the power of stories to change minds. To change the world around us. We like to think of ourselves as rational beings who are fully in control of their decisions. But tons of studies have shown that our behaviour and decisions are heavily influenced by emotions – then backed up with logic after the fact. Similarly, we are taught to think of politics as a rational business, where sensible people have logical debates and discussions to come to a reasoned decision. But political decisions are also largely dictated by emotions, which in turn are influenced by culture (Why Artistic Activism, Centre for Artistic Activism (2018)). And while culture is a shared practice, we don’t all share the same culture. This is why diverse representation and inclusivity is so very important – especially in mainstream popular culture. You see, our unconscious biases can lead to the formation of echo chambers and filter bubbles, where we only interact and engage with people who are like us, who are part of our in-group (Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (2020)). It shields us, in a way, from seeing life through someone else’s eyes.
What is Artistic Activism?
Artistic Activism is the “dynamic practice combining the creative power of the arts to move us emotionally with the strategic planning of activism necessary to bring about social change” (Why Artistic Activism, Centre for Artistic Activism (2018)). Where Activism challenges (and attempts to change) power relations, Art affects us emotionally and can change our worldview.
The two tend to operate in mainly separate spaces, but by confining art to museums and galleries, and activism to street marches and petitions, we’re limiting the reach of both our art and our activism. Artistic Activism encourages the use of unlikely places and unfamiliar forms to disrupt the status quo, like Banksy bringing political activism to the streets through satirical and at times controversial graffiti art. By surprising people through a pattern interrupt, they are disarmed of their preconceived notions and more open to being challenged (Why Artistic Activism, Centre for Artistic Activism (2018)).
Amanda Gorman’s performance poetry at the inauguration of President Biden was so hugely powerful in part because it was an unexpected place for such a frank reading. The Choose Love and Conversations from Calais billboards stop people in their tracks all throughout England, interrupting their daily commute with bold statements that challenge people to put love into action.
Artistic Activism is about creating moving experiences in unexpected ways that urge people to ask questions, to imagine a better future, and work together to make this new vision a reality. And you don’t need a massive platform to engage with it. You can tell and share stories in the mainstream spaces you occupy every day – from the films you watch at home and posts you share on LinkedIn to the conversations you have with friends in the pub.
The Universal Man
Historically, we’ve been fed the same kind of stories told by the same type of people. We all have a different experience of life, a uniquely valuable perspective, but in our male-dominated culture, the male perspective has become a seemingly universal one. Men are the human default while women’s experiences are ‘niche’ and there is barely any room for stories from and/or about women of colour, disabled women, trans women (and other marginalised people). But these untold stories lead to knowledge gaps that impact real lives every day – in business and politics and medical care (Caroline Criado Perez, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In a World Designed for Men (2019)).
This again illustrates the importance of telling and sharing diverse stories. We all need role models. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? And particularly in those domains where stereotypes are common, where individual differences are neglected, role models can increase ambition and motivation in stigmatised and marginalised people. At the same time, seeing a positive representation of an out-group member can make us question our own beliefs and even overturn negative prejudices and biases. Armed with new knowledge from these positive role models, we become less fearful of others and more empathetic (Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (2020)).
The Power Of Stories
Stories are a powerful tool through which to build empathy. Through narrative transportation, we temporarily transcend into another universe and walk in someone else’s shoes. According to Muse Storytelling, studies have shown that the more immersed we are in a story, the more likely we are to adopt the beliefs and actions from that story. And this applies to films and TV shows, books and articles, regardless of whether they are fact or fiction. A 2011 study showed that even when we’re explicitly told a story isn’t true, inside our minds it’s experienced as real. And our worldview shifts accordingly (Caputo, N. M., & Rouner, D. (2011). Narrative processing of entertainment media and mental illness stigma. Health Communication, 26(7), 595–604).
So let’s use this incredible power of stories to break out of our in-group bubbles and challenge not only ourselves, but those around us. From entertainment and news sources to networking groups and recruitment events, we have a choice in what we read, who we meet, and who we hire. We can choose whose stories we engage with and whose voices we amplify. We’re all natural storytellers and we’re all born creative, even if you may have lost some of your creative confidence (Pragya Agarwal, How To Develop a Creative Habit, TEDxWarwick (2018)). Artistic Activism is a way to reconnect with your inner creativity and your inner advocate. It’s a practice that has empowered and emboldened me to speak up and become a better ally – one story at a time.
Where you can find me
Roxy van der post
About your author
Dutch-born Roxy van der Post (she/her) is a Brighton-based visual storyteller and advocate who found her calling in 2020 by founding Myosotis Film & Photography. She’s an intersectional feminist and humanist with a vegan lifestyle who dreams of living in a tiny house by the sea.
You can find out more about Roxy and her business here.
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