The Art of Activism

The beauty of art that addresses social and environmental challenges.

by Camille Charlier, January 12, 2018
Art Activism 

French author André Maurois once said that: 

Art is an effort to create, beside the real world, a more human world .”

Art gives people the opportunity to express their true self. It’s also a powerful platform to raise awareness and address complex social issues. So what happens when you combine the inner artist with the inner activist? Beautiful things with a big impact.

Historically speaking, art has been one of the most powerful tools for voicing protest and instigating change.

Having a social impact career doesn’t just mean running a social business or working at an NGO. No matter what your profession, there is potential to change things for the better. The artists featured in this article are a perfect reminder of that.

Here are 5 examples of how art can be used as a way to open a dialogue about themes like environmental conservation, freedom of self-expression, art in public spaces and advertising.

Louis Masai is a UK-based artist using his talent and skills to “give a voice to the voiceless”. He promotes animal welfare and and environmental conservation through his art, painting all types of animals, and especially endangered species. He’s regularly collaborating with organisations and projects that aim at raising awareness about environmental issues. 

louis masai
Photo credit: Louis Masai

Combining his passion for sculpting with his love for scuba diving, Jason deCaires Taylor is making sculptures that are then placed underwater and slowly developed into artificial coral reefs. He’s also the creator of the world’s first underwater sculpture park, the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Park. His sculptures are made of eco-friendly materials and placed in the ocean at the right time of the year to coincide with coral spawning. Jason’s aim is to raise awareness regarding marine life conservation and the problematic situation of natural coral reefs. The sculptures are also drawing snorkelers’ and divers’ attention, keeping them away from the natural reefs and therefore encourage their regeneration.

jason decaires

Photo credit: Jason deCaires Taylor 

After studying and working in Brighton, UK, young artist Pepper Levain traveled to New York where she started a visual and cultural research journey among unique figures of the underground nightlife. Using a Polaroid and a Yashica camera, she photographed drag queens, transsexuals and cross dressers. Her work is a statement for freedom of self-expression and emancipation. It also brings up topics such as AIDS history, gay rights and mainstream vs. Underground culture. 

art activism
Photo credit: Pepper Levain

Founded in 2013 by Chilean-german artist PAU Quintanajornet, PROJECT WALLFLOWERS is a worldwide network of colourful art and community projects on walls, locations and objects. PAU’s goal is to meet local communities, get to know them and paint a fresco that has a special meaning for them. By creating arts in public spaces, PROJECT WALLFLOWERS encourages different ways of communication and discussion with the locals, neighbors and passerby as well as on social media. 

PAU Quintanajornet

project wallflower
Photo credit: Project Wallflower/Paulina Quintana

Vermibus is an artist trying to create a space for reflection by transforming street advertisements to cause people to meditate on the mental pollution they are constantly exposed to. By doing this, he’s insisting on the dehumanization of the models on ads after they go through the Photoshop process. He’s also protesting against the undemocratic condition of public spaces today. According to him, the fact that street art is illegal while street ad is legal is just a matter of who can pay: “Advertising cleans the image of big corporations and promotes consumption”. First, he chooses an interesting poster to transform. He then uses dissolvers to transform the image and remove the brand name and logo and places the poster back in its ad panel on the street. 


protest art
Photo credit: Vermibus/Mark Rigney

Feeling inspired yet? If you’re an artist interested in using your art to bring awareness to social causes, check out the job opportunities at Book a Street artist here

About the Author

Camille Charlier studied media and communications and is now working for Book a Street Artist, doing marketing communications and blogging. Book a Street Artist is a discovery platform whose goal is to empower artists, help them live from their art and bring more art to public spaces.

Most of the information used for this article has been obtained with courtesy of PANTA Magazine.

Originally published April 22, 2016