Black art as activism 

Some people sitting up and crowding around an open top car in the street

New York-based writer, broadcaster and commentator Lola Adesioye explores the importance of Black artistic activism and traces key moments in history

By Lola Adesioye    Above image courtesy of Kwame Braithwaite

On the US presidential Inauguration Day in January, poet laureate Amanda Gorman roused the world’s soul with her powerful words. She stood on the shoulders of giants who have used art to awaken collective social and political consciousness, and spark the Black imagination.

For Black people long disenfranchised and deliberately locked out of established political processes – let’s not forget that Black Americans were only fully able to vote in 1965 after the passage of the Voting Rights Act – activism has never solely been the ‘hard power’ you might typically think of when you hear that word.

Protests, marches, sit-ins and other forms of direct political action are not to be underestimated; they have resulted in tangible changes, which have greatly advanced civil rights and American democracy. However, I would argue that Black art has just as an impactful and important role in driving social change as taking to the streets does.

There is a long tradition of the Black artist-activist using creativity as a catalyst to demand change, challenge stereotypes and reimagine Blackness, while simultaneously empowering and inspiring people not to give up in the face of oppression.