Rachel and I recently attended a conversation with photographer Zoe Strauss and singer/songwriter Steve Earle on the topic of how art (particularly within their particular genres) intersects with their political activism. Both of these fascinating characters were closely involved with the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU), who advocated for fairness for those on the welfare system in Philadelphia. Zoe in particular resonates with the struggle fought by the KWRU. if you get a chance, I suggest you look at her billboard project, or visit her blog, and you can really get a sense for what her photography shows. She shows people living in all sorts of situations; a woman smoking crack, or a naked man on a bed in a small Los Vegas apartment. She really shows the human condition as it really is. I think she said something along the lines that she shows what we don't want to see, something we tend to brush aside or overlook because it is painful or sad. She shows what is real. Both Zoe and Steve agreed that in order to fundamentally change our society, we need to stop ignoring the problems (KWRU). While Zoe worked directly to expose images of people, Steve wrote and sung to express the need to change. In both circumstances, art was the catalyst for change, exposing the weaknesses we have in our society, and highlighting the problems or needs. I believe that whatever your art may be, it is a platform and it is also an expression. You can use a painting of something whimsical or beautiful to start a conversation with someone. Whatever your medium, the purpose of the arts always should be to foster change in someone.
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