The Power and Hope of Art in Advocacy

By Rena Namago

In this digital age, where news of catastrophes and injustice around the globe can reach us within seconds, it is easy to feel overwhelmed to the point of apathy. As much as I enjoy research and writing, I sometimes find myself feeling like I will never know enough to effectively advocate for change. It can feel like there’s too much to know and too much to do.

Nevertheless, as an artist, I believe there is more to facilitating a just and equitable future than convincing arguments and compelling statistics. Throughout history, art has been a powerful tool to facilitate social change—often one that is much more effective than words and numbers. Art provides an invitation to bring what energizes and inspires us into advocacy efforts. Art requires creativity and allows us to imagine what a different world might look like. Similarly, it meets us where we are and allows us to express the humanity and complexity of lived experience in ways that written information may not be able to accurately relay. Art has the ability to disrupt assumptions and ask us questions about the cultural values and priorities that lie behind matters of injustice.

The process of making art also requires me to slow down and practice embodiment. When I create my oil paintings it requires patience and the use of my hands. An oil painting is done one layer at a time, serving as a way to counter the sense of urgency that can overwhelm me and leave me feeling apathetic. The process reminds me of the importance of pausing, clearing my mind, and giving myself grace. Change may not take place overnight, but bringing what you have to the table of advocacy and working steadily will bring about change, one step at a time. While justice work is critical and urgent, we also need the balance of rest and self-care to be effective and sustainable in our efforts.

Communal art projects also allow for creative collaboration through which people can feel connected to others and a part of something bigger. Collaborative art can create a deeper sense of participation and facilitate the vision of new possibilities.

In 2018, I completed an internship with Community Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. While meeting with grassroots organizers in Bethlehem, we walked along sections of the Apartheid Wall that stretches for hundreds of kilometres between the occupied West Bank and Israel. Along the wall are the creative expressions of the Palestinian people and other activists who use the wall as a canvas to display their art of lament, hope, and creative resistance. While the wall is a very real source of suffering and injustice, the art on the wall is a refusal to accept the injustice: it laments lives lost to the occupation, celebrates resisters, displays messages of nonviolent resistance, and dreams of freedom. While there are many different emotions and philosophies of justice captured, the art is all unified on the same wall, calling for justice and dreaming of a free Palestine.

Art can also invite us to consider an issue from a different perspective and ask hard questions of ourselves and about our complicity in injustice. I recently had the opportunity to engage with Farrah Miranda’s Speaking Fruit, an interactive art installation exploring the lived experiences of migrant farm workers. Farrah worked with academics, community organizers, migrant workers, and other artists to amplify the voices of migrant labourers and raise awareness about the injustices they face. One component of the installation takes participants through a video of a dance by migrant workers, creatively portraying their daily labour. In the other part of the interactive experience, participants are given a paper bag with a fruit or vegetable along with a piece of paper with a migrant worker’s response to the question, “if the fruits you grow and pick could speak from dinner tables, refrigerators, and grocery aisles, what would you want them to say?”1 The installation evokes questions about where the participants’ food comes from and the exploitative conditions behind their produce. It brings a human face to an issue and connects the participant to migrant workers more effectively than merely hearing statistics likely would. The art tells a story and demonstrates consumers’ relationship to the issue in a way that is difficult to forget.

Advocacy benefits from diverse and multifaceted approaches; it should not be completely draining or unsustainable. Use what you love and what inspires you as a tool for advocacy. What is it that energizes you, and that you can bring to the table and sustain your efforts for justice?


  1. Farrah Miranda, Speaking Fruit, 2023, performance and interactive installation,

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