Art as Activism: Engaging with Feminist Art to Spur Social Change

This post was originally written for the Canadian Women's Foundation, and can be found on their blog here: www.canadianwomen.org/blog/art-activism-engaging-feminist-art-spur-social-change/

Often times activism is seen strictly as people in the streets protesting with signs and chanting. Although protesting is an important part of feminist activism, it’s far from the only way to engage meaningfully in creating social change.

One of my favourite ways to engage with the fight for gender equality is through my art and through my work with the Feminist Art Conference, a Toronto-based showcase for multi-disciplinary art that touches on themes of rape culture, transphobia, racism, violence, environmental degradation, Indigenous issues, Islamophobia, and more. The conference aims to provide a space for discussion and the exploration of these issues in order to initiate progressive change.

When artists create pieces or projects that are boldly feminist, they not only bring attention to the issues women are facing, they also create a space for discussion to take place. Art can invite questions about social inequalities, and encourage conversation on how we can overcome it. That’s what I love so much about the Feminist Art Conference – it intentionally creates a space for women to feel safe to explore art that tells their stories.

The Feminist Art Conference has been running since 2013. It’s a two-day conference (with smaller art shows and events during the year) which aims to create a space that is celebratory, positive, intellectually engaging, and provocative. It provides opportunities for networking and future artistic collaboration that can inspire social change and empowerment. We believe that the ripple effect from this type of artistic sharing and learning can provoke positive transformations in both our communities and in our minds. In the words of bell hooks, a prominent author, feminist, and social activist, “the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.”

In my art, I’ve often been quite subtle with the messaging – not painting anything directly political, but rather painting things which were inspired by something political. However, recently, I worked on some of my most outwardly feminist pieces (two of which can be seen above), and I found this to be a great way to engage more directly with social change through art. You can see more of my work, along with 5 other artists, in my first zine Vociferous and Valid

It was a great experience to push myself to make work that was more directly about women’s issues and it created an avenue for me to engage with other women doing the same. I think feminist collaborative projects are the best way art can be used as a catalyst for social change.

So what does meaningful activism look like for me? I continue to engage in the fight for social change through my art, through my work with Feminist Art Conference, by blogging for the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and by taking on other creative, collaborative projects that inspire me and get people thinking critically about social norms.

What does meaningful activism looks like to you? It can take many different shapes – if you’re interested in fashion it could be making, selling, or purchasing ethically produced clothes. If you thrive in a leadership role, it could be volunteering to organize a program with a women’s group near you. If you are interested in policy or have legal connections, it could be lobbying for legislative change.

I encourage you to be bold and use your skills and interests to spur social change. You might be surprised by the people you meet and the conversations that follow!