by Maria-Hélèna Pacelli, The Talking Stick
When I sat down to write this article, I had a series of brilliant punchlines that I knew were only interesting to myself. But this article really isn’t about punchlines. It’s about how we construct and deconstruct ideas surrounding activism and art and all the intersectionalities that convergence entails.
The evening kicks off with La toune a Landriault playing in the background.
In the midst of an exhibition of political works of art entitled Non à la paix, ça ferait trop de chômeurs, the debate begins.
If art can be loosely defined as creative production and activism can be loosely understood as intentional actions that are meant to raise awareness or bring about social or political change, what happens when you combine the two? The convergence of art and activism raises a number of questions in terms of how we think about art and activism on their own.
The debate hinges on four themes, including legality/illegality, public/private spheres, sponsorship and communications. But of course, it goes on to include much more.
Some would argue that art has always had a subversive component at its heart, and though the expression artist-activism may seem redundant in this optic, it also reminds us of the radical spaces where art comes from. Indeed, there are so many definitions of art and activism surrounding the pseudo-conferences table pieced together from café tables at Le Maître Chanteur, that is becomes almost overwhelming and yet somehow exciting to navigate the different ways that activists envision the practices they share so seamlessly.
Several important questions are raised about the future of these subversive practices and about the ethics involved in building this movement. There is a looming danger of emulating the very structures that we aim to disrupt in our organized efforts to dismantle them. Power differentials remain. The inability to reach the mainstream population through traditional channels seems both challenging and yet almost undesirable. As one panelist explained, “When we don’t participate in the fight, we maintain.”
There is a necessity within activist circles, to recognize that there are fundamentally conflicting visions of the world at odds here. When working on the front of cultural resistance, we must ask ourselves, as another panelist expressed so pointedly, if our goal is create a parallel (alternative) culture, or to deconstruct what is already in place.
As most artists know, empowerment begins from within. We all have the power to change things and reappropriating this power will come from the use of many different methods and practices on a local scale and then sharing our stories and experiences on a larger scale. It’s something that we all carry and share with those around us; it can’t be forced or indoctrinated – and it’s up to us to take it back!