By Tim Gauss
This post is part of RP’s art and media for social change blog series.
Just how far can innovative social media and art be used to increase global awareness of social injustices that otherwise go largely unnoticed? One answer may lie in Emphas.is—a funding platform encouraging photojournalists to pitch their stories and create an open dialogue with potential investors—everyday people who simply believe in the cause without looking for financial profit. In return, these socially conscience supporters receive something more valuable—the shared experience and insight into the creative experience of the photojournalist.
Let us take for example a project proposed by Turkey based photographer Carolyn Drake – recipient of a Fulbright fellowship, the Lange Taylor Documentary Prize, and a Guggenheim fellowship. Carolyn began an in-depth photo-essay surrounding China’s “Go West” policy and the effects on the Uyghurs – a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region that takes up one fifth of China’s land mass.
As a means to ascertain more control and utilize natural resources, the Chinese government has established it’s own “manifest destiny;” encouraging loyal Han Chinese to push westward. This in turn forces the Uyghurs to the fringes of their own territory – a place where cultural and religious rights are severely restricted and oppressed.
Birthed in the shadow of the Tibetan struggle for independence from China, the story of the Uyghurs is one worth shedding light on. In her own words, Carolyn “aims to challenge the politically slanted storylines by working toward a compassionate story of the Uyghurs told from inside their world.”
In a recent blog post, Carolyn has also offered a series of “rewards” dependent on the amount donated. These include signed postcards, MP3’s, hand sewn hats, pieces of Hotan jade, archival prints and even the chance to meet with Carolyn for a private workshop or lecture.
Although Emphas.is in its infancy, it appears as though it has established itself as an invaluable funding tool and people are taking notice. Recently, iconic street artist Shepard Fairey has collaborated with the Pine Ridge Billboard Project in creating limited edition prints that raise awareness for the Sioux Nation reservation camp injustices.
What truly sets Emphas.is apart is the fact that it allows for a deeper connection to the project by using a traditional social media tool to make supporters feel like they are more than casual observers.
Get involved in the story: http://emphas.is/
Every Monday (I should say, hopefully every Monday) I will be exploring the subject of ART AND SOCIAL CHANGE. Specifically, how are artists and storytellers using their artistic mediums to raise awareness and inspire change? Quite fortuitously, just in time for the first installment of this new blog, the 2011 TED Prize winner JR (infamous street artist) just unveiled his TED Prize wish: To use art to turn the world inside out.
JR can say it far better than I, so I encourage everyone to watch the video below of his speech, but I will say just a few words for those of you unfamiliar with the TED prizes or JR’s work.
Since 2005, the TED prize has been awarded annually to an exceptional individual. The lucky recipient receives a $100,000 monetary prize and more significantly, “one wish to change the world,” with the commitment from the TED community to leverage their talent, resources and network in order to help make this wish come true. Previous winners include Bill Clinton and Jamie Oliver, JR is the prize’s youngest winner.
JR has been known to refer to himself as a ‘photograffeur’ (think graffiti + photographer). His mantra that the street is his gallery brings JR to locales that have caught his attention in the media (the slums around Paris, shantytowns in Kenya, borders between Israel and West Bank, etc) and there, he creates ‘Pervasive Art.’ That is to say, art which cannot be ignored and which raises questions. Usually, his ‘public exhibitions’ take supercolossal forms, huge full frame portraits of people making faces that he places [uninvited] on buildings, walls, broken bridges, etc. JR gives a voice to those not heard or not seen. As a woman from Kibera, a neighborhood in Nairobi put it in “Women Are Heroes,” a documentary recently release in France that JR made about his work: “Photos can’t change the environment. But if people see me there, they’ll ask me: ‘Who are you? Where do you come from?’ And then I’m proud.”
In his TED talk, JR posits that art is not supposed to change the world, but rather, to change perceptions. JR’s TED prize wish, a massive humanist art project, speaks to this sentiment exactly, that what we see changes us, changes who we are. And so, JR asks that we each stand up for what we care about by participating in a collaborative, global art project. This massive undertaking attempts in many ways to take the power back from the media.
Anyone can participate in JRs wish by uploading a photo of yourself or a subject you are passionate about to www.insideoutproject.net and JR and his team will send you back a huge poster for you to paste somewhere. Together we can start changing the world, one photograph at a time.
Stay tuned for Part II of this blog as I document the RP team’s endeavor to heed JRs wish!
- You can visit JR’s website here.
- To participate in JRs wish, visit http://www.insideoutproject.net.