Monthly Archives: January 2020

The Voice On The Wall II

Photo Credit: Ernest Zacharevica

“A wall is a very big weapon. It’s one of the nastiest things you can hit someone with,” said Banksy, one of the world’s most iconic, anonymous graffiti superheroes, who uses his art to speak for this generation. 

The street and its walls have long been a place to advocate and express personal, social and political opinions. From the historic role it has played as a meeting point for revolution, in the last few decades street walls has become the place, the medium and the message, increasingly being used as a tool for collective expression.

In times of public dissent and dismay, here’s looking at 5 artists across the world who use art to protest against the plight of children across the world. 

1. HAFIA SUBAY,YEMEN 

Haifa Subay depicts the cost of war, trying to bring the attention to exploitation of children and women in Yemen. “I wanted to send a message of peace, a plea to stop the fighting and alleviate the suffering caused by the ongoing war,” Subay told VOA from her home in Sanaa. Through her murals, one can see a mother protecting a malnourished child, a boy holding a leg he lost in a landmine, a child closing his ear with one hand and crying, amongst many others, all termed as #silent_victims. Subay’s art campaigns talk about the humanitarian and social consequences of child marriage, child soldiers amongst other issues. Initially, when she took to street art, most people were surprised seeing a woman raising her voice against the brutalities of war, but now she is slowly gained acceptance and hopes that peace in Yemen will eventually prevail. 

2. TONA, GERMANY  

Happy children peeping out of street corners and being playful is the signature style of anonymous artist Tona. From Hamburg, Germany, Tona’s work is not limited to his country, instead, can be seen in many Indian cities such as lhi, Mumbai, Hampi, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Visakhapatnam, Vashisht, Varanasi, Rishikesh, Kochi and Varkala. Contrary to the grim situation of the world, Tona’s work depicts the cheerful side of childhood. His motivation is to create a “dreamy, sensual and emotional perspective” to counter the cynical perception that “people are blinkered” and that the world is “unfair, mean and brutal”, he says in an interview with Scroll

3. TYLER, INDIA

Inspired by the work of Banksy, this anonymous street artist from Mumbai has bold and quirky takes on contemporary issues seen through his work on the abandoned walls of the city. “I work on topics that matter to common people. There are those who write letters to governments to solve issues, others write articles on news platforms,” Tyler told News18. “I create graffiti.” While covering a host of social issues, Tyler talks about the plight of children through Little Girls, which addresses the safety and protection of girls. “This one is actually an adaptation of a classic 1964 Norman Rockwell painting called “The Problem We all Live With”. The painting became a symbol of the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 60s. “To me, it has always reflected that little girls need to be protected by those in authority for their safety and rights to be ensured. I revisited the painting because in over five decades, nothing has changed. Little girls still need to be protected,” said Tyler in an interview to News 18.

4. ERNEST ZACHAREVIC, LITHUNIA 

This Lithuanian artist uses architecture, communities and cities all over the world to create art that intervenes with its urban surroundings (and it’s people). His works, including the famous, Little Children on a bicycle, are reflective and provocative, depicting introspective ideas on culture, childhood and the characteristics of a community. “I see my work more like a simple moment capturing everyday life rather than an elaborate narrative. this seems to work best with the subject of childhood nostalgia, a subject which features often in my work,” he says. 

5. ABU MALIK AL-SHAMI

Abu Malik al-Shami is a 22-year-old rebel who’s taking art to the front lines in his worn torn country- Syria. When the civil war was in full swing, al-Shami’s street art brought a ray of hope to the community of Darayya. “After the first painting on Darayya’s walls, I noticed the amount of happiness and optimism it spread on the faces of the blockaded people,” al-Shami told the non-profit, Syria Direct. “It made me feel the value of my work, its positive impact.” Back in 2014, his first mural to gain international attention depicted a young girl standing on top of a pile of skeletons to write the word “Hope” on a wall. A large chunk of his 30 murals, depict children, key characters of the ongoing war. 

Al-Shami’s artwork follows in the tradition of street artists like Banksy, but is also one example of the numerous Middle Eastern street artists who have used the power of art to make political statements. 

How Stories Can Change The World For Children

I recently read Neil Gaiman’s ‘Art Matters’ where he talks about how books and our imagination can change the world. I’ve been teaching literature to children for a couple of years and in the age of smartphones and Sparknotes, it has become virtually impossible to convince my students to read. Any prescribed novel has summaries online or even better for them, movie adaptations. I took it upon myself to make them read through class reading competitions, chapter wise reading logs, whatever it took. Some students still ask me why I was so insistent about them reading. My answer to them has been simple, reading changed my life. I want it to change theirs too.

Gaiman says, “Fiction builds empathy. Fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.” That’s the truly amazing thing about stories. You can start a story and some hundred pages later, you aren’t the same person anymore. Stories and imagination are seen to belong to daydreamers and idealists. But what stories really hold within them is possibilities of what the world can be, the good, the bad and the truly ugly. Books take stories from history and bring them alive. They show such terrifying possibilities of our future that shake us to our very core because we see our dystopian novels coming alive every day.

Currently, the world is seized by protests across countries. Protests against climate change, against governments, against everything that is wrong with the world. All across the country, students are standing at the forefront of protests against the government. There is a reason these protests will always be led by the youth, by children and students. It’s because they read. They see the eerie similarities with what has happened in the past and how history is merely repeating itself. They read dystopian novels and know the madness our civilization can descend to. But their books also teach them about fighting for what is right. Books remind them that it takes one person to save a civilization, that teenagers can defeat Dark Lords and that dragons can be defeated. Fiction teaches us about strength and more importantly about empathy. It teaches us of those who are different from us and how sometimes even just one act of bravery and love, is enough to take down evil. Stories hold in their pages unending ideas and possibilities.

Reading can be the subtlest and strongest act of rebellion in a revolution. There’s a reason why the Nazis systematically destroyed books across Germany in the 1930s. There’s a reason why governments ban books and attack libraries. It’s because books spark revolution. Knowledge and imagination are our strongest weapons against hatred. Stories matter.

I end with a plea to parents and educators. Make your children read. Take them to libraries, start them off young. They will fall in love with books and it will change them forever. They will be smarter and more empathetic, with imaginations that make them see far beyond the darkness that this world is often shrouded in. Stories will teach them about good and evil, about perseverance and most importantly, about HOPE.