ACTIVIST ARTS FESTIVAL: A REVIEW
By Katie Hodgetts
“Be the change you want to see in the world”– Ghandi
Calling all creators, world changers, philanthropists, dreamers and visionaries. The ‘Activist Arts Festival’, which was held on Saturday 24th October, saw a celebration and congregation of those persons past, present and future, seeking to shape the world through the medium of art. Activist groups were invited to share their work in a non-protest environment, with the humble initiative of showcasing how the voice of art can be used to make a difference.
The term ‘Activism’ has often been marred with images of aggressive protests and confronting behaviour, for example many think of the Suffragettes hurtling themselves in front of carriages, or Greenpeace boats positioning themselves between the whales and hunting ships, precariously between life and death. However, this event attempted to challenge this aggressive stigma associated with ‘activism.’ Event producer Celine Yap emphasised that the festival was an attempt to dissolve the idea that activism and intimidation are synonymous, and we can bring down this wall through the creative process. Yap continues: “Science may use logic to change people’s views, but art has it’s strengths in unlocking the heart of the audience. If a person’s heart is not unlocked, you can reason with them with science all day, but to no avail. Art acts as the key.”
There was plenty to see and do at the festival and inspiration came in three tiers. It was initially heard aurally, in the powerful spoken word recitals, the stunning musical performances, and the engaging words of the attending organisations. A panel was created, composed of Sea Shepherd, Amnesty International, Tamil Refugee Council, Equal Love and ISIA, who all in turn shared the ethos and success stories of activism within their respective organisations. Prior to this, one of Australia’s most successful internationally touring performance poets and all around good guy Joel McKerrow implored the beauty of words in his spoken performance proving that “artists are the prophets of the future.” ‘
“Our world is crumbling; there is a growing degradation of earth and we need to do something or else we will see more and more people squished under our feet in a way that’s not fair,” he said.
Joel hopes that, through his art, he can galvanise change and echo a message that we must ‘treat each person as brothers and sisters, because before anything else, before race, before religion, before politics, before gender, we are all human.’
Secondly, it was seen, physicalised in short feature films and artwork. The films included shorts from the charity Sea Shepherd, and feature films being shown in the Ballroom. This room was peppered with activist artwork and charity stalls allowing the public a chance to get involved themselves. One particular art installation was by MAFA (Melbourne Artists for Asylum Seekers), that highlighted art’s medicinal and therapeutic properties.
MAFA is a group of volunteers dedicated to hosting quality art workshops for Asylum Seekers both inside and outside of detention. A few pieces were displayed, inviting the audience to see those who seek asylum beyond their collective label. Instead, behind each individual artwork, you could recognise a human attempting to express their feelings, opinions, and creative lust. This installation communicated art as aid for the ever pressing and contentious issue of Asylum Seeker welfare and policy surrounding this.
Finally, it was felt, as many Melbournites gathered together to envisage and celebrate a better world. One of equality, sustainability and happiness. Each tier coalesced to create a moral assault on the senses, leaving you hungry for a better world. The festival reinforced that change starts at the individual level, and we may not be bound by language race or situation, but we are bound by creativity and the universal branch of art.
It was at this event that audiences were educated that the stroke of a brush can speak louder than the noise of a mob. Anouska Teunen from Amnesty International echoed this sentiment what she opened her speech with the infamous quote ‘the pen is mightier than the sword.’ Substitute pen with brush, instrument, camera or canvas and you have effectively summed up the ethos and the initiative of the festival.