Friday, June 26, 2009

Arts for Social Change- A reading with Beverly Naidus

Beverly Naidus is an artist, activist, educator, and writer and has had her work exhibited internationally in venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Armand Hammer Museum at UCLA. She recently completed her third book, Arts for Social Change, and came to the store this past Wednesday to share her work with us.

It was an inspirational night and it was an honor to have been able to host her here at Food For Thought Books.

Welcoming Beverly was easy, after all, she was down to earth, socially-conscious, and joyfully invested in doing her share to create a more just and utopic society. She told stories from her heart that called on ancestors and history to affirm the need for art as a tool for social change and healing. Through her storytelling we saw Beverly’s commitment to art for social change as her life-long practice and the high value she places on socially conscious eco-art practices. Having struggled with environmental illnesses in her lifetime, her personal experience serves as a powerful yet vulnerable place from which to educate.

Beverly presented a power point presentation with slides from her book and discussed practices that she’s found critical to the arts for social change movement. Along with slides of her own work Beverly presented artists such as Ana Mendieta, Esther Hernandez, Common Threads Artists, Beth Ferguson, Fred Wilson and images taken from her class’ work. Beverly’s extensive knowledge was intriguing and her storytelling was easy to follow yet reflective and containing depth. The work she does as an educator is creative and joy-filled healing work, yet it challenges her students to be analytic and think critically of oppressive systems and institutions.

During her presentation Beverly cited art practices she’s encouraged her students to explore as they create their own work. One such practice “Culture Jamming”- taking images that we are familiar with in a consumer based society and re-writing or inserting a subversive alternative image- has served as a platform for response from her students to mainstream consumer messages and products. For example, her students creatively used this method to respond to issues such as body image and bottled water.

She discussed her current position at University of Washington, Tacoma, co-creating a program on Arts in Community, with a focus on arts for social change within the Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Program. Working primarily with non-traditional students she explores the topics that are most interesting to her. Her courses include Eco-Art, Labor Globalization & Art, and Body Image & Art. As she spoke her passion, excitement and the importance of these topics shone through.

“We really need to be doing a lot of education if we want our species to survive… It’s important to look at what is bad but it is also really important for us to vision what we want this world to look like”, she stated with regards to her goal in teaching art for social change. She has found value in her teaching practice as a platform from which she can support her students as they find the stories within them and are inspired to change the world through art. It is apparent that working from a place of hopefulness and joy is critical to Naidus in all of her work and, as a result, her students seem to be thriving in their exploration of art and social justice.

In her closing she read this quote from her book:

I have had a sense of mission in writing this book, a sense that many activists own, what we are running out of time, and, in this time that we have, we have to convert hundred of thousands of other artists to this calling. This has to be a diverse movement of artists if it is going to work and it will have to be sneaky, smart and effective. Artists will have to make work that helps to make their own stories emerge. With each unfolding on a person’s story, a life becomes less alienated; a person becomes more connected to the whole. We have to be persistent and patient, open-hearted and ruthless in our risk-taking. We no longer have the luxury of waiting generations. Our window of opportunity is only open a small crack, and we need to stretch it as far open as possible. And remember that we don’t need to do this work with painful intensity that will scare aware potential joiners. We need to do it with a joyful sway of our hips, with the pleasure of knowing that we have given our all.
Even if you missed the event, I encourage you to come by the store, pick up her book and explore her life work. Check out her website: Arts for Social Change for more resources including links to some of the artists featured in the book and her course syllabus.

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