Thursday, June 19, 2014

ART AND ACTIVISM: Inspiring People’s Souls from the Brooklyn Museum to the Riant Theatre’s Strawberry One-Act Festival

 Wadsworth A. Jarrell (American, b. 1929). Revolutionary (Angela Davis), 1971. Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 64 x 51 in. (162.6 x 129.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of R.M. Atwater, Anna Wolfrom Dove, Alice Fiebiger, Joseph Fiebiger, Belle Campbell Harriss, and Emma L. Hyde, by exchange; Designated Purchase Fund, Mary Smith Dorward Fund, Dick S. Ramsay Fund, and Carll H. de Silver Fund, 2012.80.18. © Wadsworth Jarrell

Introduction by Nik Whitcomb

Nik Whitcomb

Often art is merely seen as a source of spectacle. Audiences, especially those of the modern day, experience it with the sole purpose of being entertained and going home with a smile on their face. This, however, was not the reason for the creation of art. It is something that has been a part of society from the beginning of time and came about as a method of storytelling. Stories are still told through art today, but I was reminded of the impact that art can have on our trip to the Brooklyn Museum this past week.

Ai Weiwei, 2012. Photo by Gao Yuan
            Currently the museum is featuring four exhibitions centered around activism: “According to What?” by contemporary Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, “Submerged Motherlands” by Brooklyn-based environmental activist Swoon, “Chicago in L.A.” by feminist artist Judy Chicago, and “Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties” by a collection of civil rights activists of the time.

Norman Rockwell
As a Black man it was interesting to see my history displayed through art in the “Witness” exhibit, but I also noticed the impact that the art had on those around me. I heard a woman behind me say, “This was just a little over fifty years ago. This is not ancient history,” as I was walking through and the experience became much more intense. That was when I realized that this was not a “feel-good” type of entertainment. It is fun to look at now, but when it was created this art was tackling big issues and giving a voice to those that are often silenced. This is something that is lost in most modern art today and it is in our mission at the Riant to present purposeful and timely pieces that highlight real things that are happening in our society today.

Conscious Dilemmas Exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum
By Catherine Macleod Daigle

As Nik mentioned, the Brooklyn Museum has aimed to confront how modern art is combined with social justice movements. Instead of stories being just for entertainment, stories become a way for people to confront dilemmas surrounding them. Both artists and audiences can benefit from using art as a way to think about issues we struggle with in the 21st century.


Think about the famed Frida Kahlo for instance. She channeled the pain from her traumatic life into her art in order to process everything around her. Viewers can look at this pain, and be inspired to think about the many important topics she brings up, such as the loss of a child or the difficulty of grasping one’s own identity. While this isn’t activism per se, it does inspires activist-like thinking.

The Brooklyn Museum expands upon these ideas with an exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement, as well as showcasing work by Ai Weiwei, the famed Chinese modern artist. His exhibit spans both the 5th and 4th floors of the building and studies the freedom of expression in countries around the world, focusing on the United States and China. By juxtaposing all his ideas in one place, he reveals the similarities between them and how art is capable of uniting previously separated forces. 

Ai Weiwei (Chinese, b. 1957). R itual (detail), 2011-2013. From the work S.A.C.R.E.D., 2011‒13. One of six dioramas in fiberglass and iron,
148 3/8 x 78 x 60 1/5 in. (377 x 198 x 153 cm). Courtesy of Ai Weiwei Studio. © Ai Weiwei

The Riant Theatre, A Reflection Of Our Lives
By Nathiel Tejada 

The Riant Theatre has done and is currently presenting art contemplating activism similar to the different art pieces displayed at the Brooklyn Museum. Riant Theatre uses art as activism by presenting plays concerning many of the social issues we are tackling today. The Outing by Afrika Brown and Code of Silence by Van Fisher are two plays that deal with important and unavoidable topics surrounding us today such as LGBTQ acceptance, the AIDS epidemic, police brutality and community affairs. Instead of using theatre commercially for pure entertainment, Riant Theatre is using this type of art to affect and teach its audience members and hopefully open a constructive dialogue for healing and change. Performing works of art that are about different topical issues can do the job of spreading awareness and could inspire those experiencing it to share what they learned with others. Theatre, just like art displayed in any museum, should be used to tell a story, move people’s souls and create a reaction not passiveness. Thus, a story that’s told effectively through theatre can play an important role to bring about change, and serve as a catalysis of impacting someone’s life so that person can do the same with the rest of the world. 

What does your #activism look like?  Comment below or @RiantTheatre, #StrawberryOneActFestival #TheOuting #CodeOfSilence 

The Riant Theatre's Strawberry One-Act Festival & Strawberry Theatre Festival will be presented at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 West 46th Street, NYC
August 20, 2014 through August 31, 2014. 
For tickets go to or call 646-623-3488.

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