‘A picture speaks a thousand words’. It is true that a simple image is sometimes much more powerful than words may be. This is even more relevant because our attention spans are getting shorter and so we are more likely to respond to images than text. The power of social media also means that it is easier than ever to share images.
Several organisations are trying to capture and develop this power of art. An example of this is an organisation in Kenya called PAWA254, set up by the photojournalist Boniface Mwangi which aims to empower artists to use their talents to raise awareness of the problems and injustices in their countries. The organisation runs PAWA masterclasses, which are aimed at encouraging emerging artists to develop their skills and many professionals are invited to share their skills and knowledge in these sessions.
IS ART UNDER ATTACK?
In the last few years, there have been many attempts to silence artists all over East Africa. This has been through either arresting them on bogus charges and so deterring them from continuing their activities or by imprisoning them outright. For example, in Kenya recently, a photographer called Msingi Sasis Bekko was recently arrested on terrorism charges. Other examples include musicians being imprisoned for singing songs highlighting problems in Tanzania.
Such tactics mean that people in general and artists in particular, will feel less safe and able to express themselves freely. This is worrying because it leads to freedom of expression being suppressed which is a violation of a fundamental human right. It is important to protect freedom of expression because it allows us to live our lives freely and to speak about what is wrong in our society and needs changing. When freedom of expression gets suppressed, this can quickly lead to a society becoming restrictive and this makes it difficult to bring about change.
HOW ELSE CAN ART HELP COMMUNITIES?
Art can also be used in other ways to help communities and individuals. For example, as therapy to help people overcome difficult experiences in their past. This is because it gives them a way to express themselves in a different way and this is an increasingly popular method of therapy.
An example of such an initiative is Dramatic Need, which uses this power of art to work with children from Rwanda and South Africa. The project encourages children who may have had traumatic experiences in their past to design a 10-minute long play about it and then perform it. This project not only helps children come to terms with their past but also helps them move forward. The project aims to give children more confidence via performing their stories and developing their talents in areas which are not provided in most of their schools.
Art can clearly have a powerful impact, both as a tool to spread a message and as a way of healing traumatic experiences. Protecting it, therefore, is important to a free and healthy society.