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Making Voices Heard: The Art as Activism Symposium

At 4:00PM on Tuesday October 20th, Oxford heard voices – not in the sense of the supernatural (despite the approach of the 31st), but rather in the sense of strength and leadership in a shifting world.  The voices told stories of culture and heritage, of the ways in which art gave them the language they needed to phrase their reply to the discrimination and inhumanity they witness. With each anecdote and poignant remark, the voices called upon their student audience to remember that it is the student voice to which the world listens. That, though Miami University’s “Art as Activism Symposium” panel may have designated the voices of seven artists to discuss the role of creative expression in the realm of change, those seven voices should not be the only ones expected to speak.

These reminders came from rap artist Darren Brown, poet and Miami University professor Daisy Hernandez, guitarist Barnabus “Doc” Edwards, writer Jennifer Tamayo, and musician Shelley Nicole; Professor Cathy Wagner of the Creative Writing Program and Dr. Tammy Brown of the Departments of History and Global and Intercultural Studies led the discussion.Tammy & Cathy w BLM slide 2

The event may have been labeled as a “Panel,” but the responses of each artist and scholar made clear that they intended to lead an engaging conversation in which the students would be
expected to participate – and continue participating through activism in the university community.

“If people start doing it, it’s a movement.” These were the words of Shelley Nicole on the question of movements in our historical moment. Nicole is a feminist vocalist/bassist in Shelly Nicole’s blacKbüshe, a band described as “the living, breathing embodiment of progressive music.” She used light to convey her idea of an activist, stating, “When you start to wake up you will notice that people try to keep you dim.”

Shelley Nicole performing 2Such questions of systemic resistance through art and expression motivated much of the conversation, particularly as it pertained to the question of what art can do to promote change in a community. Hernandez’s response to this query, that “Art allows us to interrogate
ourselves,” reveals the glory and power within art that each musician, writer and scholar sitting on the panel upheld in their conversation: that art provokes questions and voices concerns that can foster communities of resistance and deconstruct systems of oppression.

Later that evening, the artists’ musical and poetic performances demonstrated this interrogatory power.

At a time when so many communities within the nation and world seem to be crying out for widespread and systemic change, art may be the key to uniting the voices.  The comments of Tuesday’s panelists remind us that the task of creating such art and supplying such voices rests entirely in our hands; it is our responsibility as socially-conscious United States citizens, as informed global citizens, as human beings who desire the promotion of humanity, to speak.