Revolution, as defined by The Oxford English Dictionary, is “a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it”. When you begin to speak of revolution as it may pertain to a society it is usually preceded by many events that have called upon unrest and disgust in the people who inhabit said society. It is almost always an ultimatum for change or complete destruction of a governing body that has failed its citizens or has excluded certain groups of people from accessing certain privileges that are otherwise accessible and have been agreed upon to be given to all members of that body.
As with anything else in nature no two things are the same. Societies are comprised of all different types of people who hold different standards of living and who all practice different things, trades, skills, etc. All these things maintain a functioning society. The only thing we all have in common is our humanity and for some the lack thereof. When most people think of revolution the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is a swift and bloody upheaval of life as they know it. Everybody on the front lines engaging in physical warfare. Now this may be true but as I stated earlier the call for revolution is usually the result of longstanding injustices that have occurred over a stretch of time. In combating these things, the act of revolution occurs through tests of time, numbers in people, and diverse methods of action and people. Everyone has a role to play and there is no one way to win a war.
One of the strongest things that any group of people who are working towards overthrowing or influencing a certain system can have is art or artists. Why? It is vital simply because art speaks to the human consciousness on all levels. It is dialogue that transcends distance, color, indifference, language, preference or any type of barriers that could otherwise separate one being from another. When you think of propaganda you speak on images, songs, media that all psychologically push an agenda or thought into one’s sub-consciousness in hopes of making this stream of thought normal in one’s being until a certain action is implemented. For example, Uncle Sam – a piece of propaganda that pushed Americans to join in on war for justice sake. It seeks to create a narrative and bias before an actual story has begun.
When individuals choose to stand in solidarity the art becomes the identity of the people.Jermarco Brittontweet this quote
Art bred from and through revolution is important because it is a direct representation of a movement and moment in time for the people. It is an opportunity to control and round out the stories that are told generations after work has been done and also serve as a reminder that there is still work to do. Symbols, poems, and songs all serve as a sign to those pushing for change and to those opposing it that this is why we’re here, this is what we stand for, this is our experience, and this is who we are. When individuals choose to stand in solidarity the art becomes the identity of the people.
During the Apartheid Era in South Africa, the Black Consciousness Movement was created and had given birth to and re-constructed artists of all kinds to use art as a political resistant. People would gather to collectively create and observe art as a form of release and empowerment against a regime that was separating and oppressing the very people it “served”. Their political work began to draw people in so much so that the powers at charge began to see these cultural centers where people met as a direct threat to establishment. Art was bringing people together into one understanding. Unity, such as this, is always a threat to an oppressive force that works to keep people separated and blind from the evils the higher ups commit. The state attempted to censor and control what artists were creating in hopes to enforce fear and hopelessness in people. But as things worsened the artist community became bolder in their manner of delivering their works. Making sure that even if they were silenced that their art would scream even louder and live on far greater past what they and so many others were experiencing. Striking a nerve in and out of the region artist from all over began to dedicate their work to the atrocities that were occurring in South Africa in hopes of continually shining a light on a very dark period.
The art of music has helped to shape and maintain a steady flow of ideals and sentiments throughout many movements. It has even found its way into practical uses in the real world as during the long and unjust period of American enslavement of African people. Negro Spirituals, most notably Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd, served as lyrical coordinates for slaves to find themselves in good company and en route to physical freedom via The Underground Railroad. Music that emerged during the American Civil Rights movement helped to feed the spirit of people fighting oppression and racial discrimination. Many hail Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, a song inspired by discriminatory events, as an anthem of hope that real and tangible change in the consciousness of people can be attained. Songs like Stevie Wonder’s Living For The City and Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit in their respective periods helped to highlight what the black experience was like in America.
I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.Fannie Lou Hamer
Down the line we would see things like the culture of hip hop find its way into becoming a movement that was almost synonymous with anti-establishment. Graffiti and rap music are both very much rooted in protest art. Songs like Public Enemy’s Fight the Power and N.W.A.’s F**k the Police have all served as anthems played throughout protests to motivate civilians in fighting against the abuse of power. These types of declarations help to set the tone for many forces hoping to keep morale high and the mission clear within its members. Although the songs mentioned are different they embody the same type of experiences each stating the same thing at the base. And in revolution one must never forget that they can’t afford to go back to the way things were.
Art has always and will always be a reflection of the world that surrounds us. It questions and critiques everything and there is power in critique. Although often delivered through one’s individual perspective it becomes so much more when we realize that everything we have and are is a shared experience creating an even larger consensus. Through art we come to find that we are connected no matter how we choose to separate ourselves. These emotional and spiritual transferences of energy solidify these connections. It gives you the good. It gives you the bad. And it is telling when it shows you the ugly. You cannot hide from it. You have to either face it then face yourself or attempt to destroy what you are not ready to acknowledge. But you could never destroy inspiration just the things one may draw inspiration from. Art is a tool and threat as it pertains to revolution because it provides a voice for the voiceless, a face for the unidentifiable, and creates symbols, anthems, and representations of collective belief. It is a weapon that states let us never forget. And as long as we create we can never be silenced. Artists must play their role and not be afraid to speak when the time comes. Whether it is in a large place like South Africa or a suburb called Ferguson in the city of Saint Louis, MO. Our stories must be told. So when you ask where does art stand in revolution the answer is clear. It stands with the people, for the people, and by the people.
This article is an editorial that reflects the opinion of the author. Feel free to debate or share you thoughts in the comments, but please be respectful of the author’s views whether you agree or disagree.