The marriage of art and social activism is nothing new. History proves the creative expression of the mistreated, underrepresented and oppressed peoples have been major factors to fighting social injustices and inhumane acts. But in this most recent year, without going too far, the American artist has lived through a plethora of social injustices globally and nationally and most notoriously with the unjustified murders of young black men and women. A creative responsibility has arisen from these instances, where the light has shone on these creatives to marry their art and these pressing issues.
In an early TEDtalk with Iain Thomas, author of 2009’s #1 bestseller book I Wrote This For You, he describes the power of art over a person’s imagination and how it can provide a positive change in people. Thomas explains the art of expression is meant to inspire the imagination to apply the expression to self. It is only in that instance that art becomes a tool where positive change can occur in the person and their environment. He explains complete with examples how the human mind reacts positively to “art” with open interpretation, because it is only then that we apply what we see in this art to ourselves. Through art, music, photography, poetry- many independent artists have taken the responsibility of being a voice and engaging in social movements this year. Most recently a shift has been noted of the artist embracing their viewpoints without the fear of being labelled politically incorrect. Truth be told, what is politically correct anymore? A call to action has been made and many creatives are hitting the mark.
Take for instance, Washington Height’s rapper Audubon.
“At the end of the day, if you feel the same way I do [about a social injustice], that’s on you to be a [proactive] change. I want to inspire that”, said the rapper who over the past summer released “Blacker the Berry Freestyle”- a freestyle track which expresses his frustration with the present racism in Dominican Republic against Haiti and its people. The track incites the listener to wake up; and Audubon calls the attention of his listeners by painting an exploited but familiar picture.
…The next time you hit the homeland and slide in “el campo” / with a van full of [females] while bumping Romeo Santos / stop by “el colmado” and question all of them … / they [the Haitians] helped us fight for independence and they fucking delivered, wake up…
In that very line Audubon delivers a truth that inspires the imagination to apply the expression to self. Many young Americans travel to D.R.’s rich beaches in hopes of fraternizing with its women and its lush landscape. He insists, well talk to Dominican Republic’s oppressed peoples! The Haitians, just like many of the oppressed people in the U.S. , helped gain independence from Europe! He uses his platform as an artist to make you feel empathy for the social injustice occurring on the island. Audubon is not alone in his call to action. Pulitzer-Prize winner, Junot Diaz, most recently did the same when he publicly expressed his stance on the socio-political issue on Capitol Hill, while being stripped of a prestigious Dominican Award. With having much to lose, the author is using his influence to cause a positive change.
It should be mentioned earlier this year, a curiously satisfying documentary was released on Netflix titled, What Happened Miss Simone?. In it, prolific documentary director Liz Garbus, compiled a rich visual in telling the bittersweet story of the one and only Nina Simone. Of course Nina Simone’s story is legendary enough, without Garbus having to depict it so. But what can strike the viewer as curious was the documentary highlighting Simone’s relentless contribution to the civil rights movement. Many can easily forget what a bona fide revolutionary looks like in this era of “Slacktivism”. But Nina was a true revolutionary. The director lets the unraveling occur throughout the film with Simone’s own words, alluring the air of an eerie prediction of the importance of having an artist use their platform to inspire positive change. The viewer can’t help but wonder how perfect this documentary is for the times we are living in now. What a time to be alive because a void that has developed is being filled with American artists owning up to their creative responsibility. Just like Kendrick Lamar did with, To Pimp a Butterfly and Nina Simone before him, whether for better or for worse, it’s proof of American artist's facilitating a social shift in America’s creative responsibility.