Saturday, December 18, 2010

Art, Love, Life and Death

I was saddened to learn that the Georgia Prisoners ended their peaceful strike against the living and working conditions they faced in the Georgia State Correctional system. I was also proud of the prisoners ability to peacefully strike, and then end the strike with the goal of working on their legal stance. However, the strike itself brought up important questions that the artists and writers in my community have been dealing with for several weeks now.

What does the artist owe, if anything to her community? Is she obliged to use her wider influence and voice as an artist to address the politics of her community? Is she obligated to produce work that portrays a specific message?

In a Cultural Anthropology class I taught this semester, I made it clear to my students that artists traditionally are not independent. The were supported by the community; their work reinforced by the concerns, beliefs and opinions of those supporting them, whether it be a formal patron relationship, or the public space call and response, or create and critique methods that exist in the traditional Black church or the market place in west Africa.

Therefore, by virtue of their craft, artists have consistently used their voice to articulate the concerns of their communities, to resist oppression when necessary, and to manifest their visions.

Academics are often a mixture of pure intellectuals, activists who educate, and practicing teacher/artists. Indeed we have seen some of the most important examples in the African American communities with intellectual activists transitioning into academia and maintaining a commitment to oppressed peoples. Both Angela Davis and Elaine Brown come to mind when we think of artists/activists becoming educators. Both have consistently expressed work that supports oppressed people while articulating their struggles to a larger population. Davis has graced us with well reasoned accounts of her position on the Prison Industrial Complex with her work Are Prisons Obsolete?

While Brown explained on Democracy Now, the significance of the strike, and the prisoners motives. As an activist, educator and mentor, she serves as an expert witness on the system in which so many in our community find themselves.

This tradition and relationship between the artist and activist has not escaped us here at Love Jones Lifestyle, and we were pleased to discover the tradition of political artistry alive and well. The Death Penalty Anthology is a project that seeks artistic expression regarding the death penalty. It is an excellent example of art in action, as its proceeds will support the Texas State chapter of Amnesty International, an organization known for the support of human rights globally, and specifically for the fight against the Death Penalty as a form of punishment.

As our world becomes increasingly complex, and artists will become more and more integral in expressing the turmoil, rapid change, political successes, and challenges of every day people. Do today's artist feel or reflect a responsibility towards their communities? Do they owe anything to the communities in which they practice art? Have you found a way to integrate your artistry and activism? We'd love for you to tell us how.

*photo courtesy of

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