Wish List: Art for social justice

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At the intersection of arts and social activism, you find Wish List. During five September nights at Het Bos, five artists will explain what drives them to use their creative platform to bring attention to social issues.

A talk with curator Gea Russell: “Wish List is a conceptual event with three disciplines: there is a documentary film, a spoken presentation and a performance. The artists were invited to present a social or political subject that they feel strongly about, integrated with some kind of performance and illustrated with a documentary - not necessarily one they made themselves. These artists have the ability to be both creative and intellectual. They can articulate social issues very well, both verbally and in their creative work.”

A platform for activist artists

Gea: “Wish List lets us look at what motivates these artists to address these social issues in their work. They could just sing love songs or talk about rainbows, but they choose to put something quite important in there. If you want change, you need to give artists a platform to share their opinions.”

“There always is a need for activist platforms, for people who have something to say. As a booking agent, I get to meet bands who are very concerned and articulate about social and political issues. These engaged young people got me thinking: how can we find out what is behind their thinking, apart from through experiencing their art? This close contact with artists triggered me to start a platform so that more people can be stimulated by hearing their articulate opinions and going into conversation with them. These predominantly young people have researched their opinion well, so it worth considering what they say.

Rebels using art to help

Wish List is about art linked to society. Gea: “Take music for instance: the last person on the programme, Don Letts, is a DJ and a documentary filmmaker. He uses his historical knowledge of the social issues that feeded the music of his time, the late ‘70s punk era. The punk revolution, particularly in the UK, was a rebellion against the social conditions: young people had very high unemployment and poor education. The government was a complete mess. Punk expressed through music that they had had enough of the situation.”

“The artists on Wish List put themselves in a very daring position for everyone’s betterment: they try to help people through their art. It is quite a noble thing because they will have to deal with others who make it clear that they do not want their opinions in their space. Wish List leaves room for discussion: the lecture can turn into a Q&A, the public has the chance to ask questions. It is not about someone telling you to do this or that.”

The Wish List

Linton Kwesi Johnson on Friday 14 September

Gea: “Linton Kwesi is an old-school reggae poet, as he would describe himself. Throughout his career, he wrote amazing poems and journalistic pieces on police brutality, riots, and social conditions regarding the working week. As a poet, writer and musician, he ticks all the boxes of an intellectual creative person.”

Sunny Bergman on Saturday 15 September

Gea: “Her documentaries affect her personal life. The documentary that she is showing at Wish List is about mental health. After having had a burn-out she tried to learn from how other cultures dealt with this illness. In Ghana, she discovered that they do not have a word for depression.”

Quinsy Gario on Thursday 20 September

Quinsy Gario is a visual and performance artist from the Dutch Caribbean. At Wish List he will talk about the region’s liberation struggles. He actually has a Masters of Artistic Research, so he evidently fits Wish List’s brief.

Darrell Cole on Thursday 27 September

Gea: “Darrell Cole is an Antwerp rap artist who also has something to say on social injustice but he relates to kids of his generation. Things that Linton Kwesi was discussing in the ‘70s and ‘80s still affect Darrell’s life. It is good to have a bridge between the past and the current generations because things tend to repeat themselves.”

Don Letts on Friday 28 September

Gea: “Don Letts was a DJ in the punk club The Roxy, where he noticed that all the punks rather listened to reggae music and in turn the reggae guys started digging punk. These styles were both rebel music styles. Don Letts uses his documentary filmmaking and the music that he plays to bring attention to these groups’ social situations.”

All info: Wish List at Het Bos (14-27 September 2018)

Credits

Text by Tine Van Den Poel De Clippeleire

Pics by Het Bos

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