Feminists know how to use limited space and resources creatively. We’ve had centuries of practice. And it’s precisely when the space for expressing oneself becomes limited that doing so takes on a new urgency. That’s been particularly true lately, and will likely continue to be in the coming years: as populism, nationalism and conservativism rise, and dissenting voices are increasingly relegated to the margins, the space to push back shrinks.
When we look at the feminist groups that Mama Cash supports around the world, we see that art – in all its many-splendored forms – plays a crucial role in both in their process of creating change and in their ability to sustain themselves as they do the work they do. To put it simply: feminists are creative. Because they have to be.
“Art is a mode of expression which transcends languages and borders.”
The power of storytelling
Creative expression is often how women, girls, trans and intersex people are able to resist being silenced. Stronger still, it is sometimes the only way to make their voices heard in public debate. In Mexico, our grantee-partners Proyecto Intersexual find creative ways to share their stories, and in doing so raise awareness on the effects of unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies and children. Through photography and other mediums, they literally make visible the kinds of bodies that the medical establishment structurally tries to erase.
In their own words: “Art is a way to generate knowledge. It is a mode of expression which transcends languages and borders, impacts our thoughts and emotions, and can transform the way in which we perceive the world.”
“Being able to express oneself, and to care for oneself and one another, is indispensable in building resilient movements.”
Resilience and community
But it’s also especially in the current context – as activists are facing renewed threats, having to re-fight battles they thought they had won – that there needs to be more to life than tackling oppression day in, day out. Nobody can keep that up – and nor should they try to. After all, even ´social justice warriors´ are, at the end of the day, only human.
That’s what for groups like Projecto Intersexual, art takes on a double role: it is a tool in their activism, but also a way to process and heal from traumatic experiences. From storytelling to crafts to dancing, creative expression also has a unique ability to help not just activists but all of us to process the challenges we face, and to foster communities of care and support. Being able to express oneself, and to care for oneself and one another, is indispensable in building resilient movements, in which activists can do more than merely survive and actually thrive.
“Women were taught to cry. We need to learn how to laugh.”
Learning to laugh
As Cecilia Sotres, a member of grantee-partners Reinas Chulas, once told us: “Women were taught to cry. We need to learn how to laugh.” To laugh is not to deny or ignore all of the marginalization and violence women, girls, trans and intersex people face. It is to recognise all that we are up against, and still claim the right to seek out pleasure, joy, and happiness. And especially in times like these, art can help us find our way there.