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Artivism must serve wider humanity



ARTIVISM is an amalgam of two words: Art and Activism. It is basically the utilisation of art (of any discipline) to raise awareness on topical issues.


Some of the most famous names in artivism are the likes of Sir Bob Geldof (the Band Aid initiative), Sting (with rainforest preservation), John Legend (and in my view one of the biggest ones is Bob Marley.

His body of work speaks for him so much that it is banal to mention his ubiquitous corpus of struggle songs.

The 4th National Citizens Convention convened by the Citizens Manifesto, a coalition of civil society organisations in the country kicked off this week on Wednesday under the title Let Art Speak.

The Wednesday programme had Zanu PF legislator Fortune Chasi, who is a musician as well as a lawyer, Daniel Molokela of MDC Alliance, musician Noble Stylez and Briggs Bomba the convener.

Thursday was themed Inspiration in Unusual Times Ignite Talks and featured Maaiane Knuth on the topic Reimagining Society Through Art and Vusa Mkhaya speaking on art as activism. 

Sam Farai Munro aka Comrade Fatso (pictured) of Magamba Network hosted Twitter Spaces under the topic “The role of artists in the struggle for a new Zimbabwe”, on Thursday. In an interview with The NewsHawks, Munro explained the idea .

“This year we decided we decided to let artists run with it instead of the usual civic voices. It’s really an arts-driven programme.” The final day, Friday, was shut down with the Let Art Speak concert featuring top urban music talents Asaph, Enzo Ishall, Chengeto, Hope Masike, Dhadza D, Shabach The Band, Natasha Muz, to name a few.

 The right to speak

 Vusa Mkhaya is a musician; producer and content creator based in Austria and is one of the more vocal artists. His rendition of Demloot decrying the brazen corruption in the country torched a storm of criticism from regime-leaning folk. 

“It is very important for me as a songwriter and content creator to touch on topics that affect our people every day,” says Mkhaya in his presentation for Ignite Talks.

Mkhaya is also an executive producer of a 10-track album Artists for Social Change highlighting issues such as teenage pregnancy, electricity, water and jobs “Yes, we can do skits, and do songs about love and our beautiful women and handsome men but the real elephant in the room is what affects our people every day when they wake up every morning counting those few cents…It is important to talk about those issues in our music, in our theatre, in our plays, in our books.

So I came up with an idea called Artists for Social Change…Not everyone is brave enough to speak up.” Mkhaya says the journey to recruit artists for the project was enlightening. “Some of them refused to be part of this project. They were saying ‘I wish I could be part of this project, but I don’t want my family to get into trouble’ which I understand.

So as long as we artists are afraid to speak up there is a problem…artists are the mouth piece of society.” Mkhaya maintains that he is just speaking on issues affecting society. But therein lies the problem with some folks. They believe an artist should not meddle in politics and just entertain people. I translate this to mean that some people believe artists should stay in the narrow lane of merely making people forget their troubles through either song and dance. But that is hardly what

Pablo Picasso, speaking of his now world-famous anti-war painting, Guernica, had in mind: “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy.” Or Marley when he sang ‘Get up, stand up, and stand up for your rights’. 

 Is silence golden?

 But are artists dangerous? Yes, they can be dangerous to power because they can reach the emotions in a way no politician can ever do. It thus serves the interests of those obsessed with power to buy the compliance or silence of especially influential artists.

 In Zimbabwe, Jah Prayzah has in the past been one such artist that politicians appeared to use to further a particular agenda. He has to his credit realised the folly of being a political mannequin. Still, it was as much his right to support whoever he chose to support as much as it was the right of Zimbabweans to question the choice and even shun him.

That is democracy. But who loves democracy? Who fears its thriving but those who are mediocre and corrupt?  The deployment of creative expression to engender awareness and social change straddling several disciplines ranging from music, visual art, film, poetry, rap and theatre forms the bedrock of artivism.

Thomas Mapfumo is another stalwart of artivism and has not shied away from speaking or rather singing truth to power. From, the 1970s through to the ’80s and ’90s, he has sung against corruption and other excesses of power in both pre and post-independence Zimbabwe. Some say it has cost him personally, but Mapfumo refuses to sit by.

Mapfumo left the country during the era of the late dictator Robert Mugabe under a cloud. There was talk of looming arrest. The iconic singer does have his critics but remains unflappable when it comes to his views about the ruling party.

Parting shot

 The following are a number of quotes from various notaries living and dead on activism.

“Propaganda tells you exactly what to think, feel, and do, whereas good artivism should inspire critical thinking and empathy.” — Dannie Snyder.

“As my sufferings mounted, I soon realised that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation — either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”— Martin Luther King Jr.

 “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”— Ovid. “You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”— Mahatma Gandhi.

“To sin by silence, when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”— Ella Wheeler Wilcox. “Where there is power, there is resistance.”— Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction.

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”— Edward Abbey.

“It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.”— Aristotle, Selected Writings From The Nicomachean Ethics And Politics. “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”— Albert Einstein.

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