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  • Writer's pictureAlexandra Rae

This Is Not Just A Pen: A Manifesto On Artivism

By Alexandra Rae

Collage by Alexandra Rae

There is something electrifying that happens when I call myself the thing I’ve always wanted to be. Writer. Artist. Creative. These two syllables are important to me; they make the words merge into the identity I never knew I had, or could have. Feeling the words leave my mouth makes them more real than only hearing them in my head. 

This belief of mine about the power of language is also true for three-syllable words that cannot be separated from my identity as a writer. I write, yes, but I am also: feminist. I am also: resistance. 

I’ve seen a lot of conversations pop up online lately about the role of the artist in times of turmoil/instability/despair & doom. To facilitate these conversations, quotes from other artists, philosophers, teachers and human beings are used as a starting point for participants of said conversations to either agree or disagree upon. There is range in what words are circulating now in our culture. For some, they, like Oscar Wilde, believe that “art is the most intense mode of individualism,” for better or for worse. Tunnel vision. Nights in silence. One vision, one reason for creation. The role is what the artist makes of it. There is also the viewpoint of the artist as a key proponent in creating change beyond the individual. There has been more than one Instagram story and caption I’ve seen posted with these words from Ursula K. Le Guin: “Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.” In this sense, the role of the artistic person is almost a civic one (possibly even global). The culture determines what changes are needed, and the artist responds. 

To make art, to write words, to take photos, to paint, dance, sing, sew, speak: these are all beginnings. To what? Resistance. Against what? The world, or at least the oppression that lies within it. 

Oppression – in all of its forms, whether it be overt or hidden behind laws – sinks its roots into the very soil it destroys. This is how the world has become ours, or not really ours, not really the artist's, but the one capitalism and war and credit scores took over. Art – in all of its forms – seeks to uproot systems of oppression. It speaks when apathy cannot. It burns what the water cannot touch. 

Think of your favorite song, painting, book. Then think of it again. Read between the lines. Is there a form of resistance in the subtext? (Or substrokes for physical art…sublyrics…the subterranean playground art loves to play get the picture. Or you get what the picture is attempting to say). Even our current song of the summer “Espresso” wouldn’t have been possible without women resisting the role of subservient mother/wife/daughter to men. Now she can work late because she is a singer. Now she can sing. 

So is art responsible for freeing us all? Are artists the ones who will change the world? Make us sing when, collectively, we have no voice? Make us dance when our limbs are heavy? Not by itself. Not by ourselves.

Real freedom happens when we (the people) demand to be given nothing else. Real change takes place when we are ready to accept it. I believe in the artist's ability to reveal the pathways towards change. Take Bella Hadid wearing a keffiyeh dress to Cannes. Take 5,000 women marching through Washington in 1913, demanding the right to vote. Take Picasso’s “Guernica.” Take Banksy’s street art of men throwing flowers and doves wearing bullet-proof vests. Take “Zombie” by The Cranberries. Take The Hunger Games. Take every colorful mural made of a person who shouldn't be forgotten. Take it all. There will always be more.

These are all part of a movement called “artivism,” the combination of “art” and “activism” which seeks to utilize creative expression to contest against the silence surrounding gender inequality, climate change, political corruption, and, yes, oppression in all of its forms. Its roots are expansive; problems exist all over the world, but so too does resistance.

Many websites on today’s World Wide Web attribute the rise of artivism to the 90’s, but I’m not here to discuss its history. I’m here to say I’m part of its present. For anyone familiar with my work, it’s no secret that I write about the truths of the world, no matter how ugly they are. I’m no reporter. There will always be biases present in my work, especially pieces pertaining to gender and the current political sphere. But the biases are just as honest as the truth. My oath to speaking up for and about women is just as true as the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022. My inability to stay silent on the injustices I am aware of is just as true as many people’s ability to stay silent on the same injustices they are aware of. I don’t believe we can rely on artivism alone to eradicate the root cause of these issues, but I do believe the participation & support of this movement is essential in building a unified community. 

There is more I would like to say on the topic of artivism & the role of the artist in today’s world, but what I will leave you with is this: the hand that forbade women from voting is the same hand that forbade them from reproductive healthcare. But the force that propelled an internationally known supermodel to wear a dress nodding to her Palestinian heritage is the same force that made Banksy declare the streets as his canvas. Sometimes, a dress is more than a dress. These words are more than just a bunch of letters strung together on a screen. This Is Not Just A Pen. It is the way we communicate in a world where art has become more than just something pretty to look at. To create is to resist whatever force is telling you not to create. For me, this summer is going to be long days of working and even longer nights finding what force is propelling me to write. Right now, it is the ability to bring ideas of change to life with strangers on the internet and the pen sitting next to my computer, which I used to write the title of this piece three days ago. The next time you look at a piece of art or read a story, I encourage you to check-in with yourself and see how it makes you feel. If we all gravitate towards the art that makes us feel the most alive – the most liberated – I believe the world will be better for it. 

Not that it has to be the same kinds of art, or artivism. 

Art is subjective. Humanity shouldn’t be. 

Image credits:

  • B&W photo of girl: Bridget Hollitt by Isaac Brown

  • Angela Davis sticker: designed and sold by mindthecherry on Redbubble

  • Eye painting: Tanya Shatseva 

  • Forest woman: from Metahumanx on Tumblr

  • Snake heart: from D. Pisarev on Pinterest 

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