In this strange new era, we ask different artists what impact culture can have on changing the political landscape and what tools we need to fight
In a world where there is record displacement due to war and persecution globally – 65 million, which is equivalent to 24 people fleeing war every minute – Donald Trump has been elected president of the USA and fascism appears to be on the rise again, I found myself asking this question repeatedly. Does art and culture – the things to which I have dedicated my personal and professional life – still hold any value, or rather, can it change the world?
I confess – I spent a lot of the year in a state of shock and semi-paralysis triggered by a feeling of disbelief coupled with helplessness. I carried on on auto-pilot trying to make sense of everything, trying to find a value in what I was doing, all while young boys seeking safety washed up dead on European shores.
Despite having felt powerless for a long time, I truly retain the idea that art is greater than commerce, greater than consumerism, likes and shares and greater than materialism. But if this is true, how does it change the world in 2017? The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t answer it, so I've asked brilliantly talented creative people that I know to help me understand. I asked them: “It feels like culture doesn't have an impact on political events anymore but also feels like it needs it more than ever. How does culture change the world in 2017 and crucially, can it?”
What I learned is that the need for art and culture which reflects the time is as great as it ever has been. We need work which says something – consistently challenges the establishment, archaic ideas, global suffering and crucially provides channels of valuable communication between global communities. It’s war out here and we’re ready to fight. And we won’t forget how lucky we are to be able to fight with our ideas with art and culture our weapon. 2017, I’m ready for battle.
CARRI MUNDEN, STYLIST & CREATIVE DIRECTOR
Culture should reflect multiple stories and all identities, but in 2017 – as progressive as things can feel – I don't think we can honestly say that it does. Our generation (although I actually feel more connected to the next) feels comfortable exploring non-binary sexual identities – this inspires me. Our generation challenges concepts of femininity or masculinity – this inspires me. Our generation celebrates diversity – racial diversity and body positivity – this inspires me. Black Lives Matter inspires me, Standing Rock inspires me. All of the above affects every creative decision and creative collaboration I made or have chosen over the last 10 years. But I want to hear and see Muslim stories, especially of young Muslim men. Why is that story always the same story? Our generation has the power to change that: culture – music, film, fashion, sport and art – is a powerful place to start and I want to continue to be a part of that.
CAMPBELL ADDY, PHOTOGRAPHER & VISUAL ARTIST
“Yes, you could say that – especially with the political outcomes of the west in 2017 (Brexit and Trump becoming President-Elect). However, I honestly believe things come in waves, so the lack of impact may cease to exist. We as a people have become docile, especially here in the UK. We don’t seem to fight for what it is we want, not like our forefathers. Some say it’s because our struggles aren’t as serious as those that came before us – but I believe they are just as serious, just packaged in a different way, meaning we need to tackle them with a new strategy.
This year, I feel an energy among my fellow creatives where the need to feed into institutions has diminished and the need for own grown, purpose-built collectives have become a must. With this I believe the courage to stand in ones own truth and existence, unapologetically, will inspire a surge where we are no longer the docile generation but the innovators that provide further salvation for us all. By building for our own and creating spaces/works that reflect a world where we are multifaceted, beautiful beings, willing to take control, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes common knowledge – feeding into political change for the better. The youth will see their older generations fighting for their right to exist and be inspired – or even better, become normalised to the fact that they can do anything, resulting in future generations having an in-built sense of confidence that I think some of my generation only acquired later on in their life.”
“I see culture as infinite spirals of inference – a loop of experiential understanding...in order to gain insight into the world and humanity’s place in it.” – GAIKA
“I think this is more a question of purpose. I have a quite specific philosophy regarding purpose: as humans, I think we all attempt to solve the unsolvable question. We are compelled to understand the very nature of what is, as well as the unknown. Some choose faith, others choose measurable science. Some try to ignore the feeling of not quite comprehending the whole picture and live on the surface of things. Others are only concerned with their power on Earth or the overarching fear that there is nothing beyond it. I choose a path that is called culture. I see culture as infinite spirals of inference – a loop of experiential understanding, creating, not understanding and creating again and again – in order to gain insight into the world and humanity’s place in it.
Personally, I believe that what we call love, (which is to me pure altruism and the removal of power) is, in fact, the closest reflection of the ultimate universal harmony that somehow reflects transcendence from this cycle of knowing and not knowing and ultimately living and dying. I think much of culture comes from that at its base – the primal question of what it means to live within this cycle. With that in mind, culture will always have a massive part to play in the policy that springs from this or any philosophy – and, naturally, will always play a huge part in world events. It is a raw expression of humanity navigating reality. If culture can be seen simply as all of us constantly acting on this quest for more understanding, artists, politicians and shamans of all denominations, are the ones perhaps most finely equipped to navigate the culture cycle. As such, we hold the power to effect monumental change in thought and action. Whether by the power of suggestion (as an amplifier or a filter) or otherwise – we can, and do, shape reality. My purpose, therefore, is to use culture to make the world better. This means more love, less subjugation, less power and less fear – how that works in 2017 remains to be seen.”
SAM LAMBERT, ART COMES FIRST
“Today’s culture does have an impact on politics, I believe that the effect of what we are building now will make sense much later in the near future. If you think about what was happening in the 60s – musically and with youth culture then – it helped us to be able to act the way we are expressing ourselves now. Look at a movement such as #blacklivesmatter, and all the anti-war movements like #notinmyname. The impact of actions will make more sense when the youth of today grow up to take position in the society. Long live the youth culture.”
CHINO AMOBI, CITIZEN OF NON
“Right now I believe artists have the ability to rewrite culture and reimagine the world. Fluidly and exponentially, we have the ability to recreate the narrative in ways that resonate with people and lead to change globally. An artist has the power to go live online and change the way we see the world with one image. Right now is a time for dreamers. Our dreams are now becoming our realities, through communal engagement.”
“Culture is just like a utensil, we have to pick it up and do something with it.” – Acyde
“A loaded, smoking gun of a question. The quickest response I have is... I don’t think culture can or ever does impact politics – but people do. Culture can inspire, motivate, entertain or educate people but then it’s up to us as a society to take it a few steps further: be vigilant, make the people and ideas we vote for (or choose to opt out on) work for us. Culture is just like a utensil, we have to pick it up and do something with it.”
P-THUGG, MUSICIAN (CHROMEO)
“Culture is, more than ever, in a great position to influence politics. We can all agree social media has become the most powerful tool to spread messages, share images, change opinions and open dialogues. We’ve all witnessed countries go through full-blown revolutions sparked by social media. It is now easy to share injustices and unfiltered news across the globe and make your voice heard. It’s the ideal cultural exchange platform, for those who desperately need it.
But social media is a double-edged sword. Drowned in a sea of feeds that we subject ourselves to every minute of the day, important news stories are losing their impact and sense of urgency. Artists and other typical cultural vectors are losing credibility, and the political messages they convey now seem like passing trends, undermined by the next post of a fabulous outfit or selfie. The cult of personality that we have built on social media is discrediting positive messages. I really think that we now have the tools to change the world. But cultural leaders are changing. We are still adapting and desperately waiting for our digital Gandhi. One love.”
“Social media is a double-edged sword...The cult of personality that we have built on social media is discrediting positive messages.” – P-Thugg
KOJEY RADICAL, MUSICIAN
“I feel like politics is part of the culture – I don’t feel like it can have an impact on culture per se because it’s a direct effect of the culture. I guess everything that happens within it – a lot more so now than ever – the youth are much more important to the effects of the future than anybody else, and they obviously listen to the artists and pop culture figures more so than they do to their politicians. So naturally, you would hope that artists felt a responsibility to communicate messages with a little bit more of a political edge, just to raise awareness – but at the same time, you can’t expect everybody to be political and I feel like what you are about to see in the next three, or four or five years is the aftermath of a year like 2016 and all the political shifts that came with it.
Trump’s term is four years, and if he gets re-elected that's eight years. Because Obama was a part of the culture his term seems short – it feels like he was the president for 10 minutes, whereas Trump is going to be a long excruciating process of understanding a different set of ideals that are a lot more focussed on money rather than the people themselves. And I feel like that will have a direct effect on the art that is created in the time. In any particular period or moment, there are artists that directly reflect what is happening and how people feel, whether that’s through music or even down to something as lighthearted as caricature. As an artist, you borrow from the world that you live in and if things are happening around you, you are definitely going to see it appear in the music. So if the next three years are deeply political times, you are going to get deeply political art.”
ABBAS ZAHEDI, ARTIST & POET
“According to literary theorist Terry Eagleton, culture nowadays can be defined as that which you are prepared to kill or die for. Yet so much of what we call culture nowadays takes the form of wishful performance, seeking validation from the ’gram or just a bland kind of #aesthetic worship. To be honest I’m not interested in grand political gestures through my work. I just have more questions in response to this. Do we no longer seek value in the practice of pursuing art and culture as a means of accessing the most sublime parts of our own humanity? Culture as a practice of meaning-making in a world where nation states are disintegrating into digital diasporas – what becomes of home and community then? What shape does the place of politics take in the shifting reality that is going to emerge in 2017? And if after all this it is still unclear, maybe ask what are you willing to kill and die for? That may give you an idea of your own culture and the impact it can have on society.”
CHARLOTTE MAËVA-PERRET, ARTIST & DESIGNER
“It all depends on how we decide to define culture – I feel this might be a root of the problem. For example, if we think about mainstream culture in relation to media right now I don’t feel it has little impact on political events at all. In fact I feel that it has never been such a powerful and scary weapon. I feel that it has come to a stage where that very culture literally changes and rules most of people’s world. It’s the lack of diversity and alternative visions of the world that is missing. I wonder whether inspiring underground and authentic cultural energies still exist and when they do it doesn’t take long until they get channelled and appropriated by a bigger fish. In my head it’s feel a bit like a loophole. More than focusing on the cultural capital itself, I think in 2017 what’s more crucial is to keep trying to redefine culture – to disrupt and appropriate the channels or make your own even if it’s just locally.”