Nonviolence and Art tackling systemic problems
By Peter Dickson
Listening, as we have hereto discussed, allows activists to hear the wounds and the systemic ills of a community. A wound may manifest in multiple different ways, but the methods of nonviolence as socially engaged art can subversively address the root of these social ills.
I formulated my own piece for the project after Sarah Berney shared with me a study on the role of fast food-accessibility in the increased vulnerability of food-insecure families. I sought to engage such issues of malnutrition and food insecurity in the creation of my art print.
As depicted above, my print is a parody of the classic painting, American Gothic. I hoped to convey how farmers have been replaced with fast food employees, due to fast food’s accessibility. The production of food no longer takes place within communities, but is contracted out to corporations. This has caused a systemic issue within food insecure areas, because what is economically and locally accessible is consumed causing socio-economic pockets of malnutrition. The fast food consumption has caused health inequalities within groups and areas of people due to their social location. My print is meant to display how Wholesome Waves helps those within food deserts by having an alternative to fast foods, making farmers markets economically accessible.
The subversive nature of my print sheds light on the gothic reality of the fast food chains subsuming the traditional role of farmers in the food system. This is an example of art highlighting a systemic issue, which may in turn trigger a public discourse in the hopes for social change.
Art is used as a tactic for nonviolence because it highlights an issue in a pacific manner and brings it to the surface. Nonviolence is a proactive resistance against social ills that engages the public. It articulates the problem in an aesthetic form for public discussion. Paintings become a powerful medium for social engagement and nonviolence because it constitutes a cross-cultural language. Aesthetic beauty, such as art, bridges cultural and social gaps. An image is not circumscribed by language, level of education, or social context. An observer can project his or her previous experiences into an art piece, but the artwork is not limited to an individual’s projection. It can stand on its own as a space for public discourse and communication.
Art has become a useful strategy for nonviolence because of its capacity to affirm and channel a culture’s internal sources of strength. The great sociologist Emile Durkheim once wrote that every society germinates from kind of religious (literally meaning that which “binds together”) that give individuals a common frame of reference in the form of shared symbols. Cultural symbols as the “womb of civilization” embodies a society’s collective effervescence and shared experiences. Art as nonviolence allows us to challenge systemic social ills and envision potential alternatives. Socially engaged art becomes a medium for nonviolence, in its capacity to both express shared social needs and to bind people together under the common vision of a Beloved Community.