Black Lives Matter AC on the Role of Art in Social Change

Artists (L to R) Kelley Prevard, Belinda Manning, Cole Eubanks, and Joel Dias Porter discuss their work as artists and activists as a recent Black Lives Matter AC public forum at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City.

“Art by nature is revolutionary.” This powerful statement was introduced by Atlantic County visual artist, Kelley Prevard. Her words encapsulate the mood felt throughout the May meeting of Black Lives Matter AC, highlighting the ways in which art can bring about social change historically and today.

On Saturday, May 21st, Atlantic County community members gathered at Asbury United Methodist Church for their seventh monthly Black Lives Matter A.C. forum. Titled The Arts: Inspiring Social Change, this public event was part of a twelve-month series aiming to connect the sudden death of young unarmed black men to the slow violence of our community as perpetuated by various forms of inequality (housing, unemployment, education, criminalization) (Lipsitz 2015). The BLM AC forums seek to address these societal concerns and potential solutions for change. In attendance was a large crowd of about fifty women, men, and children, including five local poets: Kelley Prevard, Joel Dias Porter, Cole Eubanks, Belinda Manning, and Emari DiGiorgio. Dr. Christina Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology and BLM AC core team member discussed her past work co-authored with Dustin Kidd on W.E.B. DuBois’ social theory of art in which he lays out the political and transformative potential for art as a way to address racial politics, contest truth, and challenge our social order (Kidd and Jackson 2010).

20160521_144708Whenever the term revolution is used in discussion, it often attaches a negative connotation, stirring up images of violence, anger, and division. Yet these images describe the world in which we already live—through the ongoing racism, economic inequality, and personal suffering that is experienced each day. Revolution is about fundamental change, creating new truths while challenging the best and worst parts of our communities—either by our hands or through institutional means. According to Ms. Prevard, change is also about “humanizing the dehumanized” instead of focusing on the statistically significant factors of injustice.

13237649_1034066456648693_4696216294340743133_nMs. Belinda Manning, a long-time Atlantic County resident and social activist, focuses on mixed media art. She stated that her work “starts with a poem or piece” but ultimately “all of it comes from inside.” This idea of internalizing structural injustice was present throughout the event and evident in each artist’s work. However, their work was also a reminder and lesson that instead of internalizing the injustices that are personally and collectively experienced, it is essential to express them outwardly in order for any such change to occur–whether through artistic form, individual action, or collective effort.

Referring to the personal sacrifice that is made through such expression, Ms. Manning further noted: “the activist risks his body and the artist risks his soul, but what happens to the artivist?” This theme of suffering, pain, struggle, freedom, and change was present throughout the conversation, stimulating deep emotions and—perhaps more importantly—motivating ideas in which societal growth can be White Picket Fence achieved. In this way, such art serves to unite the community through understanding our selves, our neighbors, and the world in which we all live.

One particular image that struck the entire crowd was one of Prevard’s latest pieces, entitled The White Picket Fence. This image depicts a young girl playing in a yard, surrounded by trash in front of a white picket fence. Behind the fence stands a massive brick wall, blocking the child from moving forward while simultaneously preventing her from even visualizing what may lie ahead.

It is through the work of such artists as Prevard, Manning, and other “artivists” that as a society, we may strive to demolish that brick wall, lower that fence, and achieve greater freedom and equality in all of our communities.

 

 

About the Author:
Maha Bayan grew up in Prospect Park, NJ and is a senior at Stockton University majoring in Sociology and Anthropology. Her research interests include urban studies, community engagement, and racial, social and economic injustice. Maha currently assists Dr. Christina Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University, with her work on Atlantic City and the Black Lives Matter forums.

About Black Lives Matter AC:
Black Lives Matter AC was organized by a coalition of community organizations in and around Atlantic City that meets monthly at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City to bring together people across lines of race, religion, age, gender, economic & educational levels, in order to learn and listen to one another. We honor the future through our youth, creating space for arts, culture, and local ministry to guide youth away from gangs and toward the arts. Various speakers present on topics, so we better understand the underlying systems of oppressions which people of color have inherited and which white Euro-Americans have often taken for granted. Since November, we have covered areas such as domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, housing, the current state takeover of Atlantic City, and more. We provide safe and facilitated space for people to begin listening to one another’s stories, to build trust, and to foster relationships that lead to organizing and building projects for change. Our goal is to create relationships where none existed, and then to allow the process of creativity and cooperation to flourish for good, so that the future of Atlantic City and Atlantic County is enhanced for as many people as possible, starting with our children. Our next forum is on Dismantling White Privilege, and is on June 18, 2016, 2-4PM.