International Artists Day: Harnessing Creativity for Social Change

International Artists Day: Harnessing Creativity for Social Change
Ashling McCarthy.

In celebration of International Artists Day (25 October) local artist, author and anthropologist, Ashling McCarthy explores the centuries-old relationship between creatives and social change.

“Throughout history, as social inequality, injustice and oppression became more prevalent, artists became actively involved in raising awareness of these issues,” says McCarthy.

In the 19th century, the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution saw unprecedented levels of poverty, hunger and disease. Victorian artists began to consider how their creative works might bring attention to the plight of those affected, with the intention to invite commentary and encourage participation in finding solutions.

Fast forward to the apartheid years of South Africa, where many artists sought to use their work as a weapon against the regime. From painters to photographers, singers to actors, the truth of what was happening behind closed doors, was revealed. While some chose to use their work to overtly support political parties, others produced work that expressed their concern, seeking to engage the viewer in the reality of the situation at hand.

“When I started my creative career, I had come out of a decade of social development research. From HIV/Aids to orphan care, homelessness to the poor quality of education in rural schools. The magnitude of social injustice was overwhelming and I realised that academic research had a limited reach. A select few would read the report, and conversations around social change, would remain between myself and the client. I wanted my work to invite commentary and encourage participation amongst the general public. Each one of us can bring attention to the areas of social change we are passionate about,” explains McCarthy.

The majority of Ashling’s work tackles several social injustices from socio-economic inequality and the poor quality of education in under-resourced schools, to the exploitation of crafters and wildlife crime.

The sale of prints of selected Ashling McCarthy paintings goes toward funding a robotics and coding programme at an education and social capital development NPO that Ashling founded, called I Learn to Live – Ngifundela Ukuphila. The organisation provides education opportunities to school children and youth in rural Zululand.

“Providing rural children and youth with opportunities to create a meaningful life, in which they contribute towards their community and society at large, is a key focus of the organisation,” says McCarthy.

Ashling also offers talks to high school learners (aimed at grade 10 – 12) where she discusses the power of using creativity to explore social challenges and also provides tips and advice for aspiring writers.  To book a 1 hour talk email [email protected]

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