Art is Doing its Part to Raise Awareness

Will you do yours?

Hundreds of refugees and migrants aboard a fishing boat moments before being rescued by the Italian Navy as part of their Mare Nostrum operation in June 2014. Photo: The Italian Coastguard/Massimo Sestini

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide and over 21 million refugees fleeing conflict or persecution worldwide as reported by the UN Refugee Agency. Immigration and the refugee crisis effects everyone in this world. Whether you are an immigrant or refugee yourself, whether you know someone who is or you just hear about it in the media, it’s directly affecting you and your life. Finding a solution to this global issue is of the utmost importance to the world today. Now is the time for all of the world to come together to make sure everyone has a safe place to call home and for each of us to do our part to raise awareness of these global issues. Film and the visual arts can effectively raise awareness in the US about immigration and the refugee crisis occurring worldwide. Raising awareness is the first step to finding a solution and there are many ways to do your part.

This was a collaboration with Shepard Fairey with support from Zack De La Rocha from Rage Against the Machine and Marco Amador from Producciones Cimarron.

It has quickly come to my attention how much I take for granted the lifestyle I live and the freedoms I have being a natural born citizen of the United States. While its easy to sit here and speak of how “everybody deserves clean drinking water, and a safe place to lay their head,” doing something about it is a different thing. First and foremost everyone needs to get involved. The best way to raise awareness about these issues is to show the world the struggles immigrants and refugees are facing day-to-day. In the world today it’s impossible not to hear of immigration or the refugee crises especially with the looming election and talks of securing our borders being brought to the frontline of debate. This has stimulated the growing interest and concern for these people being effected by the policies regulating US borders. Are we going to have to sit by while laws become more unaccepting to the influx of immigrants and refugees needing our help? How will we be able to help this crisis?

The arts are a major gateway to raising awareness about these issues and starting the conversation to help the refugees and immigrants of the world. Film is one very effective way to raise awareness about any issue. Film allows us to look into the lives of immigrants and refugees and see first hand the level of destitution they are facing. Public murals have been widely used to raise awareness as well. Other than raising awareness there are additional benefits to artists taking part in this movement. One of extreme importance is how artists can directly benefit the immigrants and refugees.

A young refugee plays violin in front of a line of Turkish police at Edirne, where refugees amassed hoping to cross into Greece. (Photo by Levent Kulu)

Ai Weiwei, a Chinese contemporary artist, brought a piano to a refugee camp and asked a Syrian pianist to play for the first time in years. An interesting article by Mike Steels titled “How Artists Are Adressing the Syrian Refugee Crisis” states that “Last year a German train rode through the city of Dresden, bringing with it a message to commuters: a painting of the word “Welcome,” written in Arabic, which took up the whole side of a car…A pair of anonymous graffiti writers who were behind this piece told a local paper, ‘We are committed to ensuring that refugees are welcomed here.’ These are just two small examples of actions artists are taking to help this global issue. All aspects of the visual arts have played a part in raising awareness and in this space I aspire to explore many of them.

On the flip-side there’s debate about artists exploiting this tragedy for personal gain and at which point does it become more of a drawback than help. While this is an area I wish explore, currently I feel that if ultimately a artist is making a positive impact and generating awareness, starting the discussion and creating positive reactions then it’s not careless exploitation and ultimately contributes to the cause. However, I am dedicated to finding that line and what would provoke someone to cross it for self recognition.

The issue of immigration and the refugee crisis have been a large part of the world’s history since the beginning of time. From wars over political control or religious persecution, billions of people throughout time have been displaced and millions left stateless. It’s time for the people of the world to find a peaceful way to deal with the issues of migration, so they don’t continually turn into deadly crisis. Unfortunately, the world will always have wars over political control or religious persecution as long as greed and intolerance exist. The solution is to help those affected and displaced by these wars and to create a place where they can find peace and acceptance.

Imagine if every single person who felt compelled by a story or image related to this crisis could donate something to this cause, from money, to time, to art, to starting movements, to providing education. We could change the world. Even if you can’t travel across the world and work face-to-face helping refugees or travel across town to help local immigrants, you can get involved and do your part to help. Simply starting the conversation can help to raise awareness, and the more people know, the more they will want to help. According to the UN Refugee Agency, currently 86% of the 5.3 billion dollar budget to help immigration and the refugees comes from governments and the European Union while only 6% comes from pooled funding mechanisms. We can do better than 6%! Together we WILL change the world by raising awareness. What are people doing to raise awareness around you, and what can you do to help? Will you join me?
Maya Arulpragasam is a famous rapper, singer, designer, producer, and refugee. When she was 9, her mother and siblings fled violence in Sri Lanka and came to London, and the experience was formative for her art. As she explained to The Guardian in 2005 after the release of her debut Arular, “I was a refugee because of war and now I have a voice in a time when war is the most invested thing on the planet. What I thought I should do with this record is make every refugee kid that came over after me have something to feel good about. Take everybody’s bad bits and say, ‘Actually, they’re good bits. Now whatcha gonna do?’”
Like what you read? Give Tess Aston a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.