(reblogged from Chronicles of Harriet)
The Black Arts Movement was the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. It was started in Harlem by writer and activist Imamu Amiri Baraka. Time magazine describes the Black Arts Movement as the “single most controversial movement in the history of African-American literature – possibly in American literature as a whole.”
Both inherently and overtly political in content, the Black Arts Movement was the only American literary movement to advance social engagement as an essential ingredient of its aesthetic. The movement broke from the immediate past of protest and petition (civil rights) literature and dashed forward toward Black Power.
In a 1968 essay, “The Black Arts Movement,” Larry Neal proclaimed Black Arts the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” As a political phrase, Black Power had earlier been used by Richard Wright to describe the mid-1950s emergence of independent African nations. The 1960s’ use of the term originated in 1966 with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee civil rights workers Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and Mukasa Dada (Willie Ricks). Quickly adopted in the North, Black Power was associated with a militant advocacy of armed self-defense, separation from “racist American domination,” and pride in and assertion of the goodness and beauty of Blackness.
Creative Resistance involves a wide variety of artistic forms: music, memes, posters, banners, plays, street theater, poetry, animation, fiction, comic books, fashion, film and much more. Art adds vitality and energy to advocacy and reaches people at deeper emotional levels, conveying what cannot be said with the mere recitation of facts.
In the process of creating art there is a tremendous opportunity to build deep support for the issues the movement is working on.
Art is good for our communities and artistic collaboration is a bonding experience. We make art together, not just because of the changes it can bring to the world around us, but because of the way it changes us internally. The relationships built create community and solidarity that is essential in a successful social movement. The art that is created reaches out to people who see the protest, installation or other event. All of this adds up to empowerment of the individual, community and movement.
In this respect, art is a catalyst, on multiple levels, for change.
To be effective in our activism it is not enough to provide facts, figures and graphs and reach people in their heads. In order to change people, we have to reach them at a deeper, more emotional level.
Throughout history, the most effective political activists and revolutionaries have married the arts with campaigns for social change.
Think of the iconic photos of us being attacked by dogs and having the fire hoses turned on us; of police brutalizing and murdering us throughout our sojourn in America. These iconic images will be carried with us forever because they reached into the depths of us.
Another powerful artistic tool is music. Music draws people in and can open the door to a movement’s message. From hip-hop to jazz to soul, there is musical activism. Music is also a tool for creating solidarity and confidence as activists face difficult situations.