The Power Socially Engaged Art has as a Tool for Advocacy

Esther May

This essay explores the different ways in which socially engaged art has been effectively used as a tool for advocacy. The work focuses on three artists in recent decades that have developed their practice of socially engaged art in different ways, in order to deliver social change. Each artist embodies different strategies of collaboration including: ;Pedagogy as practice,’ ‘Participatory performance’ and ‘Social engagement with global reach,’ all with the common goal of catalysing social change. Through analysing three forms of participation, it is clear to see how socially engaged art is utilised to facilitate a series of ‘Political actions in order to transform

power relationships through achieving specific policy changes benefitting the population involved’ (Daw 2009:3). The application of key theorists including Claire Bishop and Paulo Helguera reflect on key implications that collaborative dialogues raise, including the ‘desire to shift models of authorship to more non-hierarchical social models’ (Bishop 2006:12). Through articulating the change that social engagement can have within communities, each body of work anchors the fact that collaborative art has the potential to be a powerful interactional and transformative process.


This essay explores the power socially engaged art has as a tool for advocacy. In this context, the term advocacy represents the ‘Series of political actions conducted in order to transform power relationships through achieving specific policy changes benefitting the population involved’ (Daw 2009:3). The discourse of collaborative and participatory communication is becoming increasingly apparent within socially engaged art practices where photographers have worked towards representing the voices of individuals, groups and communities, using visual storytelling to empower and educate toward creating positive social change (Stevenson 2010: 8). This essay considers the different ways in which three practitioners work over recent decades have developed their practice in socially engaged art to foster change. Each artist embodies different strategies of collaboration, but share the common goal of catalysing social change.

Through applying relevant disciplines and themes such as pedagogy, performance, ethics of representation and artist’s methodology, intricacies within socially engaged art reveal the complexity and subjectivity of the genre. The analysis of key theorists provides relevant interpretations and reflections on how this practice is being shaped. Both Claire Bishop and Paulo Helguera reflect on the issues that collaborative dialogues raise, including the ‘Desire to shift models of authorship to more non-hierarchical social models’ (Bishop 2006:12). Whilst theorist Paulo Freire reveals the parallels between art and education through the role of pedagogy. This proposes a new mutually transformative relationship between teacher, student and society, whilst emphasising the role of ‘teacher as learner’ and ‘learner as teacher’ (Freire 1970:53). Through reflecting on these key themes and interpretations, each case study explores the power of socially engaged art to deliver change. It also considers the associated increase in tension their approaches create between the process and production of photographic representation.

Through analysing three forms of participation, collective themes emerge challenging traditional forms of engagement. Claire Bishop illustrates this transdisciplinary shift as ‘While the audience, previously conceived as a viewer or beholder, are now repositioned as a co-producer or participant’ (Bishop 2012:2). These forms of co- production can also be explored within participatory action research strategies, such as Photovoice. Within this essay the following tenets enumerated by Photovoice will be used to form a broader understanding of relevant topics, whilst presenting criteria that helps analyse the effectiveness of art projects in creating advocacy. In particular: the theoretical literature on education for critical consciousness (Freire 2007); the efforts of community photographers and participatory educators to challenge assumptions regarding representation and documentary authorship (Ewald 1985; Hubbard 1994). Whilst the third method being the change that will enhance lives by influencing policy makers (Hooks 1981).

Chapter one directly explores socially engaged art, primarily through the parallels of art and education (Helguera 2011). This chapter focuses on Wendy Ewald’s Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories by Children of the Appalachians, in relation to theoretical literature regarding pedagogy. This form of engaged art focuses on the interaction between the audience, social system and artist through topics such as aesthetics, ethics, collaboration and social activism (Turnbull 2015). Chapter two directly explores the transformative force of community activism, through performative collaboration. In particular, Mark Strandquist’s and Courtney Bowles’ Mama’s Day Bail Out project. This focuses on issues surrounding mass incarceration and how art can be combined with performance to innovate and transform individuals and communies lives. Whilst chapter three offers an insight into the effectiveness of a global social engagement project. JR’s Face2Face project explores the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which involved coordinating an illegal art exhibition on the wall, built by Israel along its border. The effectiveness of JR’s methods of collaboration are explored in order to reveal the relationship between the process of artistic participation and subsequent outcomes.

Wendy Ewald- Pedagogy as practice

Chapter one directly focuses on the work of artist and educator Wendy Ewald, in particular Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories by Children of the Appalachians (Ewald 1985). Ewald has collaboratively worked on projects with children for over 40 years, however this body of work is particularly informative as it evidences the lasting impact her approach has had on three communities that Ewald worked with over a seven-year period. Measuring the impact for projects that advocate change is challenging, however Ewald returned to the Appalachians 30 years later, to re-engage with former students. This was recorded within Portraits and Dreams: A Revisitation. This level of engagement over an extended time period enables viewers to clearly see the impact that Ewald’s pedagogical processes of teaching had on the lives of the former students. Former student Delbert Shepherd stated that ‘taking the pictures taught me a meaning of life, and that there were no boundaries to what we could and couldn’t do. It was what we set our minds to’ (Pickering; Lewis 2012).

Within Ewald’s collaborative practice, collective themes emerge, highlighting her ability to question traditional modes of collaboration, ‘I wanted to challenge categorical distinctions between art and documentary photography, between photographer and subject, child and adult’ (Ewald 2007:21). This is an important aspect of Ewald’s work that challenges traditional roles of photographer and subject and evidences new ways of thinking. This in turn leads the viewer to challenge questions regarding authorship, in particular ‘who is the photographer? Who is seeing and who is being seen? Who is the teacher, who is the student?’ (Ewald 2007:22). Through questioning these modes of authorship, a transdisciplinary shift occurs, whereby the photographs narrative becomes a participatory site for wider storytelling, spurring community members to further reflect, discuss and analyse the issues that confronts them (Lykes 1997). Delbert Shepherd’s reflection demonstrates the success of this approach.

Figure 1. The Planes Were Crashing On My Head. S, Huff. 1985

Figure 1. The Planes Were Crashing On My Head. S, Huff. 1985


Within Portraits And Dreams, the children were given their own cameras to experiment with. Ewald describes how she approaches the notion of collaboration and authorship, ‘I ask my collaborators to alter my images by drawing or writing on them, challenging the concept of who actually makes the image – who is the photographer and who is the subject’ (Ewald 1985). Through exploring themes of family, community and fantasies, Ewald used photography as a sociopoliticaleducative tool whereby the children critically reflect on their social surroundings. This in turn puts the camera in the hands of children that are encouraged to document and co-share their reality through these photographs (Wang and Burris 1994). Ewald facilitates ideologies of critical reflection through proposing a ‘New order of co- operation’, (Sollins and Sundell 1990:9) whereby true participation, does not involve a subject-object relationship, but rather a subject-subject relationship’ (Freire 1970). This pedagogical method of teaching is designed to liberate both the oppressor and oppressed whereby one’s social reality is developed through both reflection and action (Freire 1970). This collaborative strategy directly focuses on themes regarding critical consciousness, which encourages students to ‘read the world’ and the possibilities of breaking the ‘culture of silence’ through articulation of discontent and action (Bishop 2012: 5-6). This in turn exemplifies the importance of reflexive action in ‘moving away from authoritarian models of transferring knowledge towards the goal of empowerment through collective class awareness (Freire 1970).

Within Ewald’s work, the children were given the freedom to experiment, however Ewald’s methodological processes of teaching highlighted how participatory communication was a means of working with and by people, as opposed to working on or working for people (Chambers 1983). This has symbolic educational implications, demonstrating how the ‘Relationship between photographer and student becomes reciprocal rather than hierarchical’ (Bishop 2006:12). This approach to socially engaged art has led to questions regarding the tension between process and outcome of photographic projects. These questions include the relative roles between photographer and subject as well as the agency value in forefronting the social aesthetic of the image (the social interactions that led to production, exhibition, distribution) (Ritchin 2013:128; Strandquist 2013). Counter to this critique is the evidential fact that Wendy Ewald’s approach provides a direct platform for the presentation of the issues facing the social group that she works with. Wendy Ewald’s practice merges two worlds: Socially Engaged art and documentary Photography. Although this positioning is challenging, Ewald appropriates from both worlds, making work that will have social, political and personal impact on her primary audience, whilst retaining communicative value with her to her secondary audience (Turnbull 2015: 80). Ewald’s primary audience are her child collaborators; whilst her secondary audience includes: the family of the children; members of the community and people that helped with funding and the art world. Ewald’s work challenges traditional documentary approaches where the subject can often be seen as a spectacle (Bishop 2012).

Another evidence for the effectiveness of Ewald’s participatory approach to socially engaged art is through consideration of whether it delivers the beneficial effects described by Guy Debord. His indictment of the disruptive effects of capitalism within ‘Society of the Spectacle,’ emphasises the importance of socially engaged art, as ‘It re-humanises a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalist production’ (Debord 1994; Bishop 2012: 11). Ewald expresses how within the USA the language sanctioned within the classroom is an extension of white middle class ideal, thus the chances of making a marginal living were alarmingly small (Ewald; Hyde; Lord 2012:107). Through this realisation, Ewald’s position as an educator highlighted truths about the system, ‘It became clear to me that our school systems are constructed according to white middle class values: linear thinking, tidiness, an overly earnest dedication to doing things ‘the right way’ (Ewald 2007:22). Thus Ewald adopted an approach whereby photography is used to teach language.

Within Portraits and dreams the children are given agency and creative control whereby learning how to photograph offers transferrable problem solving skills and an environment to exercise self-expression and awareness (Kreisler 1998). Therefore, Ewald adopts a methodology taking a stance against contemporary capitalist production whereby subjects are passive with very little agency or empowerment (Thompson 2012: 35). Through taking a stance, Ewald’s work enabled an increased understanding of community needs, whilst focusing on individual empowerment. This subsequent combination results in action and advocacy to affect policy change. Through Ewald’s work merging two worlds, she is able to communicate these issues to her secondary audience, through the presentation of universally published books, her critical writings, multiple successful touring exhibitions and national/international press. Through this multi-media platform, her work can be used as a catalyst to reach policy makers through the power collaborative work has to start conversations, which have the potential to grow over time and reach wider audiences.

Figure 2. I dreamed I killed my best friend. A, Shephard. 1985

Figure 2. I dreamed I killed my best friend. A, Shephard. 1985


Claire Bishop raises questions regarding the importance of aesthetic and its relationship to politics. This leads the audience to consider questions that don’t solely deal with process and instead addresses what the viewer sees (Eschenburg and Bishop 2014). This in turn encourages the viewer to question the experiences and understanding of a project when looking at social practice. Instead of solely focusing on what we can’t see within the work (the process of production), Bishop places value in focusing on ‘the larger cultural meaning‘ (Eschenburg and Bishop 2014). This forms a dilemma between communicating to an external secondary audience whilst making work that is well understood by her primary audience. Bishop emphasises the double ontological status of participatory art as ‘It is both an event in the world and at one removed from it. As such, it has the capacity to communicate on two levels- to participants and to spectators’ (Bishop 2012:284). However, to reach this second level by addressing both its immediate collaborators and subsequent audience, ‘Requires a mediating third term- an object, image, story, film, even a spectacle- that permits this experience to have a purchase on the public imagery’ (Bishop 2012: 284). This can potentially be seen as ethically challenging, however Ewald responds by arguing the importance of having an audience both in the art world and the community it was made, ‘If the work doesn’t reach the community it was made, then it doesn’t make sense. But for me if it doesn’t communicate as art of break new visual ground, it isn’t effective either’ (Ewald in Calisch 2014).

The double ontological status of Ewald’s practice has led to the development of new strategies of documentation that serve not only to transmit the work, but to also contribute to formal innovation within the disciplinary fields in which they are located (Jickling 2013). Therefore, through bridging the world of documentary and socially engaged art, Ewald advocates change in a manner that retains communicative value with both her primary and secondary audience. This approach although successful, has the potential to threaten the integrity of the authors process of collaboration (Burton; Jackson; Willsdon 2016: 315). However, Ewald focuses on process and aesthetic strategies simultaneously in an attempt to create a greater message to communicate to both audiences (Thompson 2012). This duality has a greater chance of advocating change, as the work is viewed and reflected on by a more diverse audience. Thus Ewald’s collaborative work can be described as communicative action, geared to collaboration and understanding between individuals that can have an enduring long-term effect on the sphere of politics and culture.

Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles- Participatory performance

Chapter two focuses on a different type of collaboration that sits at the intersection of art and activism. This chapter explores Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles socially responsive work within the Mama’s Day Bail Out project, which embodies forms of participatory performance. The application of performance practices continues to be a source of critical discussion, as many theorists discuss the difficulties of writing about the ephemeral medium of performance (Phelan 1993; Schneider 2011). It can be argued that Strandquist and Bowles act as facilitators, as they have utilised their skills and resources to enable creative projects to bridge the gap between concepts and live projects that have the potential to make a difference (Tuhiwai 1999).

‘The Re-entry Think Tank’ was developed by Strandquist and Bowles as an art and advocacy group which ‘Centralises around the experiences and leadership of formally incarcerated individuals within Philadelphia’ (Strandquist and Bowles 2014). ‘The Re-entry Think Tank’ is partnered with ‘The People’s Paper Co-op,’ which connects formerly incarcerated individuals together with artists, civil rights lawyers and others to run a range of programmes and initiatives. The partnership significantly focuses around issues of mass incarceration, whereby think tank members are nominated weekly to use art as a means of destroying stereotypes, transforming social services and advocating for policies that avoid incarceration (Seymour 2014). Within the Mama’s day Bail Out, a group of formally incarcerated women met to understand the issues of Cash Bail. This process developed, combining art and photography in a series of powerful posters, t-shirts and audio pieces to raise awareness of the campaign. The PPC fellows organised a series of parades and marches across the city that embodied performative strategies to celebrate and raise consciousness of the Bail Out. This transformative process highlights the effectiveness of performative collaboration and its impact on its sole objective.

Figure 3. Free our Mothers. M, Strandquist. 2018

Figure 3. Free our Mothers. M, Strandquist. 2018


The discourse of community work was developed within the 1970’s whereby socially engaged art became a form of performance. This encouraged forms of community activism whereby artists became more overtly political, primarily focusing on art that was ‘Drawing attention to social and political relationships and issues; raising awareness or confronting audiences through exposing them to new experiences’ (Burnham 1998; Kresensky, Steffen 2009). Within contemporary modes of performance, the production of meaning is often filled with complexities, involving modes of processing through work which involves ‘Embodied, sensorial and experiential engagement, where the ‘audience’ or ‘spectator’ is positioned as ‘partaker’ (Shaughnessy 2015). An emphasis is placed on these modes of process which invests ideas of presence and experience as much as the production of objects and things, that ‘Seeks to be alert and responsive to its contexts, sites and audiences’ (Sofaer 2009). This emphasis on the political power of conversation and representing social issues is incorporated within Mama’s Day Bail Out project. However, Strandquist and Bowles do not just engage participants in new experiences, they break past this, giving collaborators agency and a platform to be heard from, ‘It’s important this programme isn’t about ‘serving’ women, but about supporting them to be the leaders they need in their own families and communities’ (Bowles 2016). The Mama’s Day Bail Out project was extremely significant as within 2018 ‘The Reentry Think Tank’ and peoples paper co-op fellows, collaborated with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, on a campaign to bail mothers out of jail for Mother’s Day.

Within socially engaged art, ‘artistic intent’ is frequently questioned. The nature of these questions includes: What is the artist’s intent; what is the process of dialogue and exchange; how are the subjects represented? However, through analysing this particular type of participation, both Strandquist and Bowles can be seen to be working and facilitating from a position of care. Through analysing the term ‘performance’ in its etymological sense, it derives from the term applicare, which significantly means to ‘join’ or ‘connect’ and figuratively to ‘devote (oneself) to.’ Thus, this form of collaboration centralises around ‘care’ and the want to create change and support for social justice movements. At the core of the Mama’s Day Bail Out is the belief that those individuals most impacted by the criminal justice system are the most qualified to be listened to, thus ‘Through connecting those directly affected with experts and political stakeholders, they can utilise art to create change on a personal and systematic level’ (Strandquist and Bowles 2016).This is evidenced through the outcomes of the march, which helped bring awareness to issues of returning systems, fostered connections and brought people together to discuss urgent issues that needed addressing. This was incredibly significant and highlights a shift in power dynamics, whilst emphasising the importance of co-collaboration where the role of the facilitator is one of working with and not for the oppressed, to organise them in their incessant struggle to regain their humanity (Singhal 2001).

Throughout the Mama’s Day Bail Out project, participatory performance has been shown to highlight many ways in which change is advocated. This social responsive form of participation encourages active engagement, from both the participators and the audience, whereby ‘Performance can transform the practitioners, the participants and the public’s existing knowledge and experience’ (Schechner and Thompson 2004:13). This transformation is evident through the international recognition that this project received, as well as the impact it had on policymakers. This project has resulted in over 1 million US dollars being raised, which has enabled 188 women to pay bail and return to their families (Cayro 2018). Despite impacting a wider audience through protests and marches, this process has demonstrably impacted the participants involved. After the press conferences and ‘free our mothers’ parade, the women joined advocates and service providers to create the ‘Women’s re-entry bill of rights.’ This signifies an active way in which each stage of collaboration within the Mama’s Day Bail Out, is successfully advocating change that makes a difference in each individuals lives.

Figure 4. Uncuff Our Community. M, Strandquist. 2018

Figure 4. Uncuff Our Community. M, Strandquist. 2018


Through embodying a cultural action strategy, Strandquist explores the struggle in our society to communicate, thus, physical acts such as marches aim to explore responsive ways of creating immersive environments, ‘This is a society that is nonverbal in many ways, to be able to reach people through art and media, draws you in’ (Bowles 2016). This type of participation does not limit or confine certain audiences, it moves performance beyond the theatre and spaces of gallery and engages participants in dialogue through embodied exchange and encounters. Thus it can be argued that there are synergies with work produced by visual artists that are seeking to move beyond the gallery and involve the viewer or attendant in experiential practice (Shaughnessy 2015: 186). However, this does not account for theories surrounding ‘loss’ in the context of performance, in particular, the death of the ‘live’ event. De Certeau negotiates the absence of presence of such events, which after the day become mere memory and cannot reborn (Certeau 1984). This also links to the challenge of addressing how the secondary audience can subsequently ‘re-live’ the primary experience of the performance when it is over. However, one way is through photographic evidence, documenting ephemeral or situational practices, however this methodology is not as effective as experiencing the live event.

Socially engaged art often aims to address issues surrounding primary and secondary audiences through creating work that satisfies both audiences. It attempts to be successful within both art and the social field, ideally tests and revises the criteria we apply to both domains (Bishop 2010). Within this case, Standquist and Bowles primary audience are the women collaborators and the secondary audience are policy makers, general public and funders. For the primary audience, both practitioners have conveyed the importance of process on the work’s outcome. The women are involved in every step of the process and become active co-facilitators of the work. This anchors Helguera’s writing on the importance of ‘process’ within socially engaged art, in that ‘All art invites social interaction; yet in the case of SEA it is the process itself—the fabrication of the work—that is social’ (Helguera 2011: 11). On the other hand, Bishop highlights the importance of aesthetics and its relationship to politics, yet advocates the ‘social turn’ which draws emphasis to artistic process, impact and ethics over the aesthetic (Roche and Bishop 2006). Within the Mama’s Day Bail Out project, each subject collectively created pieces of art, yet marched together. This in turn mimics the power dynamics presented by the police as their collective work helped to empower each individual as autonomous agents, whilst they also facilitate collective identities. Strandquist and Bowles describe how they ‘use art and parades as a Trojan horse to force and create a platform for formally incarcerated women to be at the front, to be leading, to be sharing their vision’ (Strandquist and Bowles 2016). Through this approach they have successfully enabled amplification of people’s individual voices into a collective that had previously been strategically and systematically silenced from political and public spaces.

JR- Social engagement with global reach

Chapter three explores the works of globally renowned photographer and artist JR, in particular his political work in Palestine and Israel titled, Face2Face. JR’s style of participation offers a healthy counterpart to the past two case studies. This contrast, contributes an insight and comparison into a project and practitioner who has arguably pioneered one of the world’s largest participatory campaigns within his Inside Out project. JR’s stated aims are to reach and humanise those whose have been marginalised, through allowing his subject’s to become agents of their own public identity (Berrebi and JR 2007).

Within JR’s work, a transdisciplinary shift occurred as an artist, whereby the subject of his work moved from a position of ‘this is me’ to a position of ‘this is us’ (Remnant and Thompson 2015:34). As a result, JR’s methodology is significantly influenced by the inclusion of subject participation, as both a general move away from modernist photographic practice and its tendency to accept the evidential nature of the medium (Luvera 2010; Robinson 2011; Palmer 2013). This is highlighted through actively working with participants in their immediate environments, a style that moved past the demonstration of a style that merely shows the artist’s individual aesthetic skill and instead used his art to put into motion a relationship between his audience (Berrebi and JR 2007). However, despite JR’s work receiving global recognition, many socially engaged practitioners have questioned the motives of his work, including the role of his participators and whether his work is merely a publicity stunt, masquerading under the guise of creating social change. This chapter will explore these questions in attempt to reveal whether JR’s collaborative approach uses art as a means of advocating change, or simply boosting his global status.

Figure 5. Separation Wall: Palestinian Side In Bethlehem. JR. 2007

Figure 5. Separation Wall: Palestinian Side In Bethlehem. JR. 2007


Face2face was a collaborative project, directed by JR and Marco Berrebi that began in February 2007, during a time of Israeli Palestinian conflict. The Israeli and Palestinian communities are living side by side, separated by a border, significantly the barrier is both a physical and metaphorical embodiment of a region embroiled in disputes over land, (Jr and Maximin 2008) causing extreme levels of cultural animosity. As a result, JR embodied interventionist strategies to challenge and transform existing systems of hierarchies, representation and ideologies. This involved coordinating an illegal art exhibition on the wall, built by Israel along its border. This project mobilised a large team who met with both Israeli and Palestinian residents either side of the wall to discuss politics and their personal political view, alongside them having a ‘personal yet funny’ portrait which denotes ‘faces full of humour and humanity’ (Engelen 2010). Those photographed included religious and secular, soldiers and policeman, whilst each participant signed letters declaring they stood for peace and a two state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The images were subsequently printed at very high scale and pasted on both sides of the wall. They symbolically stood in stark contrast to the hard brutality and severity of the wall that separates the very people portrayed (Gerhard 2008). It can be argued that these images were used as a metaphor to provide a ‘Non sensationalised image of the humanity of ‘the other,’ (Remnant and Thompson 2015:35) through which passers-by were asked to guess who was Israeli and who was Palestinian. Significantly, they often failed to correctly identify the ethnicity of each individual within the images. Subsequently, this project aimed to advocate change through encouraging each participant to become a public ambassador, standing up to inequalities and fighting for change.

Tom Finkelpearl interestingly questioned that ‘If art doesn’t directly put an end to the scourge of capitalism, it must have no value at all’ (Burton; Jackson; Willsdon 2006: 447). The equivalent question for JR’s work is whether his project has resulted in changing public opinion within Israel and Palestine. Within the context of a dispute where ultimately the issues are a lot deeper than face value; the question should be whether the work has contributed to changing attitudes, rather than whether it has completely solved the problem. Simply taking photographs in the hope to solve conflict is naïve and challenges core principles established within socially engaged art. Through adopting a collaborative multi-authored practice, challenging issues of subjectivity are addressed by facilitating access to tools, sharing skills and equalising voice. All which lead to increased agency in the visual storytelling process and challenges the historical notion of the veracity of single authored photographic images (Wells 2009).

Figure 6. Face2Face Within Berlin. JR. 2008

Figure 6. Face2Face Within Berlin. JR. 2008


However, within Face2Face, JR and his team worked with participants for a pre- defined period of five months. This gave them a very short time period to gain cultural awareness of the pressing issues at work and to build significant relationships with each collaborator. Socially engaged art often expands the depth of the social relationship, promoting ideas such as empowerment, criticality and sustainability among the participants (Helguera 2011). However, it can be argued that JR’s projects embody a systematic methodology that involves a multitude of large scale projects that are completed in a short time frame. JR’s large team of collaborators then move onto a new project, in hope that the work made will continue to expand and raise awareness of the issues raised. In this instance, it can be shown that the effectiveness of a project does not solely rely on the scale of a project, or the aesthetics of reception. Participatory art uses methods of collaboration that can be shown to channel arts symbolic capital towards constructive social change (Bishop 2012). However, key to interpreting this change is understanding the role the participant had and the social interaction that led to the final production of work. As well as the role of the photographer within the collectively authored work, in particular the democratisation of ‘voice’ (Robinson 2011:119). For many of the participants, their voices have been systematically silenced and his work aims to make the invisible, visible (Remnant; Thompson 2015). Despite challenging the effectiveness of Face2Face in creating significant social change and reaching policy makers, this project does give participators the chance for their voices to be amplified. As well as their social situations to be reflected on, through breaking the ‘culture of silence’ and actively responding (Bishop 2012: 5-6). Through actively signing a letter declaring they stand for peace within their country, they are opening themselves to public scrutiny and making a political statement and bold move to advocate for change. Each photograph symbolises an act of peace and despite the main issues being intrinsically more complicated than surface level, this project will be the start of a road that stimulates bigger debates and conversations.

Paulo Helguera signifies that an important feature of socially engaged art is the period of time it is formed over, ‘Nominal and directed participation take place in a single encounter, while creative and collaborative participation tend to develop over long periods of time’ (Helguera 2011:15). Therefore, through placing cameras in the hands of people, a researcher or facilitator can gain valuable insight into people’s current living situation, which have been previously overlooked, rejected or silenced (Singhal 2001). Subsequently, the benefit of collaborating with a globally renowned facilitator, is that their work travels, and has the potential to reach global places and spread messages of cultural and political importance. The portraits photographed within Face2Face were later exhibited in huge formats across the world in countries and places such as at The Venice Biennale, Geneva and Berlin, as depicted in Figure 6. JR also made a film titled Faces raising awareness of the project, which was later broadcast on Israeli and Arab television and received a multitude of awards (Remnant and Thompson 2015:74).

JR’s work within Face2Face challenges the formulaic rigidity of traditional practice. Instead of focusing on stereotypes within a culture, he embodies a systematic and symbolic mode of participating with his collaborators. Through confronting challenging issues in an accessible and creative way, JR opened up a platform whereby cultural issues are represented through metaphorical images standing side by side. This has been effective in opening up discussions and facilitating conversations without directly imposing solutions to long standing issues. JR’s community awareness projects deploy strategies that employ methods of impact, where often the realm of the political symbolise these ambitions (Thompson 2012). Through employing methods of co-collaboration, a greater and more personal message is highlighted within his work. This process of collaboration describes a shift from a concept of photography that begins and ends with an individual photographer’s vision of the world; through to the concept of photography as a co- authored social process involving photographers, their subjects and viewers over time (Palmer 2013). This significant shift addresses a medium of photography that is inclusive, but also one with an overt agenda.


To conclude, socially engaged art has been shown to adopt a new collaborative process of production. There is a shift in the dynamic of engagement whereby previously considered ‘subjects’ of photographers, become integrated co-creators (Luvera 2010; Palmer 2013; Robinson 2011). Through analysing three different forms of participation it is clear to see how socially engaged art facilitates a series of ‘Political actions in order to transform power relationships through achieving specific policy changes benefitting the population involved’ (Daw 2009:3). Each of the three forms takes a different approach to delivering social advocacy and demonstrate that socially engaged art can be delivered effectively in many different ways. Wendy Ewald’s practice merges the world of art and education together. This highlights the importance and impact of photography that does not solely rely in its art form, but rather in its ability to shape our ideas, to influence, behaviour and define our society (Share 2015).

Through adopting this method of participation, Ewald uses photography as a means of advocacy, through which artistic practice can be a powerful avenue for self- expression and growth (Ewald, Hyde, Lord 2012). Ewald also uses her practice as a photographer and artist, as education, (Kreisler 1998) whereby socially engaged art is used as a political tool to fight against ‘White middle class ideals where children are excluded or condescended by the current system’ (Ewald, Hyde, Lord 2012:107). The long term effectiveness of her work is evidenced through the legacy of empowerment of her co-collaborators.

A different approach is taken by Mark Strandquist and Courtney Bowles, who focus on participatory performance, which I believe to be the most socially responsive method of engaged art. This style of participation embodies communal marches and involvement of previously incarcerated women as advocates. The effectiveness of the performative strategies was evidenced through the success of their project in bailing out 188 women and raising over one million dollars for Cash Bail (Cayro 2018). This type of collaboration also focused on the power of process, through supporting the incarcerated women throughout their journey. Paulo Helguera signifies socially engaged art’s role in facilitating this process, as ‘All art invites social interaction; yet in the case of SEA, it is the process itself- the fabrication of the work that is social’ (Helguera 2011:12). This performative engagement encouraged active engagement and advocated change through collective marches, which highlights how ‘Performance can transform the practitioners, the participants and the publics existing knowledge and experience’ (Schechner and Thompson 2004:13). The work has also left a legacy through inspiring production of the ‘women’s re-entry bill of rights,’ which has the potential to result in fundamental change to the penal system.

Social engagement also works on very large scale projects that can be delivered in a comparatively short time frame. This is evidenced by JR’s Face2Face project that was delivered by a large team over a five-month period. The success of this project was commended through multiple awards, as well as his film Faces being broadcast on Israeli and Arab television (Engelen 2010). Subsequently, Face2Face has advocated change through firstly raising awareness of the conflict, as well as facilitating the means of providing a platform across a divide that few have bridged. This political project has given participators the opportunity for their voices to be amplified and their social situations to be reflected on, through breaking the ‘culture of silence’ and actively responding (Bishop 2012: 5-6). Therefore, this response has come in the form of both Israeli and Palestine communities demonstrating to the world that they both want peace, through the signing of letters declaring that they stood for peace and having their image pasted on the wall that physically divides their communities. These courageous actions stand as a testament for their desire for change. My conclusion is that JR’s approach has used art as a means of fostering social change and raised the issues to global prominence. In the process JR’s global status has been raised. While this remains an ethical issue, JR’s involvement has ensured that the issues addressed by his work have global representation.

Moreover, detailed analysis has highlighted three artists in recent decades that have each developed their practice within socially engaged art, as a powerful way to influence and advocate change. It can be noted that there are challenges to this method of participation, including the ethical implications surrounding authorship (Palmer 2013). However, socially engaged art has been shown to create forms of living that ‘Activate communities and advance awareness of pressing social issues’ (Thompson 2012). My analysis has demonstrated that the duration available to deliver a socially engaged art project, need not be a constraint. Wendy Ewald’s work was delivered over a seven-year period and followed up thirty years later. Whilst the Mama’s Day Bail Out project was delivered in a much shorter timescale, but involvement of engaged individuals resulted in helping 188 women attain bail. Socially engaged art can also be delivered effectively in areas of extreme political tension, yet effectively advocate for peace as evidenced by JR’s Face2Face project. Thus, collaborative art is leading the way as a powerful interactional and transformative process that enables people both individually and collectively to realise their full potential and engage in their own welfare.

List of references

Bishop, C. (2006) Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: MIT press

Bishop, C. (2012) Artificial Hells: Participatory art and the politics of spectatorship. London: Verso Books

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Figure List

Figure 1: Huff, S. (1985) The planes were crashing on my head [online] available from<> [28 September 2018]

Figure 2: Shepherd, A. (1985) I dreamed I killed my best friend [online] available from<> [30 September 2018]

Figure 3: Strandquist, M. (2018) Free our Mothers. [Online] available from<> [15 November 2018]

Figure 4: Strandquist, M. (2018) Uncuff Our Community. [Online] available from<> [20 November 2018]

Figure 5: JR. (2007) Separation Wall: Palestinian Side In Bethlehem. [online] availablefrom <> [10 November 2018]

Figure 6: JR. (2008) Face2Face Within Berlin [Online] available from <> [26 September 2018]