antiracism through art: sharing our own stories

There are many artists in our community and around the world who make art about race, racism, equity and social justice. Their work raises awareness around social issues and engages people in conversation.  Art is a powerful tool for bringing people together, making connections, building community.  Art gives us a voice so that we can express our thoughts, feelings and ideas in ways that reach people.  Art inspires us to learn more about ourselves and others.  At the heart of it, art in all of its many forms, is storytelling.

More and more young people have become involved with social issues, supporting causes that are important to them, and leading the charge to make change happen.  They make banners and signs in protest and they share personal experiences through spoken word and poetry.  They embody feelings of sadness, pain, fear, resistance and hope through music, dance, and performance.  They tap into their inner strengths and creativity to share their own stories with others.

 

This page is all about making art and sharing art for a more equitable and just world.  Scroll down for a list of ways that young people can address the issues that are important to them, make their voices heard, and share their stories with others to effect change. 

why art?

We believe that art is a powerful form of social-change communication.  Art promotes conversations about racism and equity in ways that help people understand, act, and support solutions that advance equity.  Artists and makers help us to imagine a world that is more just and inclusive while learning from our past and present mistakes and failures.   WIth their innovation and creativity, they are able to create space for both to exist.  Artists who are doing social justice work make visible the racism and inequity that plagues our community, and allow us to see it, hear it and feel it in a way that moves us and compels us to action.

"The violent consequences of an unresolved history of race relations have largely defined the past two years of public discourse in the United States, crystallized most poignantly in the efforts of the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Of the countless lenses we’ve adopted for this nationwide racial reckoning, art is one we might not typically think of.

 

How can art help us make sense of these complex histories? The short answer is that the visual—what we see—matters: one need only consider the prominent role in recent debates played by photographs of the Ferguson riots, cell phone footage of police and civilian encounters, or symbols like the Confederate Flag."

The Art Genome Project

By Ellen Yoshi Tani, Jessica Backus and Olivia Jene-Fagon

art as social action: the visual matters

This gallery of images is filled with artwork you've likely seen before.  They are images created by artists who make art around themes of racism, equity, politics, social justice, environmental justice, civil rights, human rights, war and peace.  This collection of artwork offers just a few examples of art that speaks on behalf of the issues that impact our families, communities, countries across the world, and our planet.  Their messages are loud and clear, yet invite you to look deeper and think.  They make an immediate impression that draws you in, makes you feel, then leaves a lasting imprint on you.  The images in this gallery that are familiar to you likely did just that.  

 

The visual matters.

what do crayons have to do with structural racism and social change?

Crayons are a common choice of art material for children's first art making.  With crayons little ones begin by drawing scribbles using all of the colors of the rainbow and then some. As they age and become more aware of the world around them, they mirror what they see in their drawings and use their imagination to create new visions and interpretations of the experiences they have and the things they encounter.

Crayons were first created in 1881 by E. Steiger & Co. and popularized by Binney & Smith aka Crayola in 1903.  For over a hundred years kids have been making and exploring with crayons as their tools!  Crayola's first set of crayons included the colors of the rainbow plus brown and black.  In 1949 they introduced 40 more colors, one of which was named 'flesh' now known as peach.  The inclusion of this color was intended to allow children to draw people with a more realistic skin tone.  What must it have been like for children of color to only have one crayon - a color associated with white skin - as the one identified as flesh?  What must it have been like to not be able to draw a picture of your family, friends, or a self-portrait in skin tone that matched yours?  The lack of representation in our country goes beyond people of color not seeing people who look like them in media, it's in everything and found everywhere. For so long the negative stereotypes associated with race and color have been visually reinforced with things as 'benign' as crayons starting at a very young age.  It wasn't until 1992 that Crayola introduced the 'multicultural' crayon set.  Imagine the world it opened up for black and brown children.  Think about what it meant for a black child to be able to use a color other than black to draw themselves.  Or a brown child to use a color other than yellow and one shade of brown to color pictures of their faces and bodies. As a young artist, I remember the frustration vividly. I remember preferring paints to crayons and colored pencils, because at least you could mix and blend colors to try to get the right tone, even though I loved to draw and hated to paint.

The history of crayons offers a simple illustration of structural racism.  Introduced by a company founded by white male inventors at the turn of the century, the 'flesh' crayon defined the color that should be used for skin in children's drawings.  The idea that whiteness is what skin coloring was centered on was taught at a very young age to both white children and children of color.  Not only was a lack of black and brown representation in all arenas the norm, but children also did not have access to the tools necessary to self-represent.  Their otherness and feelings of being less than were found everywhere; even down to their box of crayons.  Today, children have a wide variety of colors to choose from when drawing people in their pictures and images involving skin, but the message that white is the preferred skin color is still ingrained.  

 

In February 2020, there was an article in the Washington Post entitled A 9-Year-Old Girl Got People to Finally Stop Thinking of the Peach-Colored Crayon as the ‘Skin-Color’ Crayon.  Finally!?  It's 2020!  The story is about a fourth-grader in a Virginia elementary school, the only black student in an all-white classroom, who noticed that when her friends would ask for the 'skin color' crayon the peach crayon would automatically get passed.  She recognized the problems this presents, and with the help of her mother, found a way to bring attention to the issue.  Her actions and words inspired her teacher and classmates to change the way they referred to and talked about skin color in the classroom.  Soon after, her message caught regional and national attention.  This mighty act of local awareness-raising from a young person of color sparked a national initiative called "More Than Peach."

There is great power in art materials, art making, and art engagement as a tool for learning about racism and equity, especially for children.  Art can offer an inclusive space for young people to explore issues that are important to them, and a medium to share their ideas about justice and social change.  The potential of art to empower young people and provide avenues for visibility and voice is invaluable.

See the article that features 9-year-old Bellen Woodard, a change maker from Virginia, whose activism through art is helping to change her classmates' and community's views on skin color and representation here.

Synecdoche (1991-present)

Artist: Byron Kim

 

This art piece is a grid composed of over 400 painted 8" X 10" panels, each of which matches someone’s skin tone. Kim's is Korean-American artist who with this piece explores abstract painting, the problems of color and vision, and issues of human identity and existence.  The title of this piece - synecdoche is a term defined as a figure of speech in which a part represents the whole or vice versa, making it clear that issues of representation, both visual and democratic, are in play.  read more about the artist here

"Art has massive power to move people to social change.

By using their art as an innovative medium for awareness, artists become advocates, challenging the biggest issues of our time.  Public art, then, capitalizes on the power of socially-aware works, reaching people in their everyday environments and confronting them with social injustice that is otherwise easily ignored."

Can Art Amend History? | Titus Kaphar

Art IS the Changemaker: Culture Bearers & Social Justice | Jennifer Turnbull

learn about artists of color

Native American

Artist: Gerald Clarke Jr., Cahuilla Indian

Screenshot of ScreenFloat (6-6-20, 11-07

Working Women

Artist: Faith Ringgold

Next in Line

Artist: Aimy Tien

  • Kindness in Action
  • Kids Create Change