Activism through street art with the Fearless Collective

Shortly after the 2012 New Delhi gang rape and murder of 23 year old Jyoti Singh Pandey, artist Shilo Shiv Suleman initiated the feminist movement and art collective the Fearless Collective. Fearless has ever since been using participative art and affirmative storytelling techniques to tell stories of cultural and political realities, with the long term commitment to create space to replace fear with beauty, creativity and fearlessness. Through their world wide projects, they are telling stories of universal strength, and encouraging people to mobilise and tell their stories, fearlessly. Fearless Collective has since its initiation been working with projects in Pakistan, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Nepal, Lebanon, Brazil, the United States and Canada. The projects have been working with a number of different communities, and through their projects they have been touching upon subjects such as gender based violence, feminism, the oppression of transgender communities and indigenous rights. Working together with local artists and communities, Fearless are conducting their projects through affirmative storytelling techniques. The stories that are being shared within the group are then translated into public art, usually in the shape of a public mural. According to themselves, their work is to “show up in spaces of fear, isolation, and trauma and support communities as they reclaim these public spaces with the images and affirmations they choose”. 

I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect a little bit on the work that Fearless is doing. From the moment I heard about them, I have been fascinated and inspired by their work and their philosophy. By using participatory art, they are showing a way of communicating development and social change that at least I haven’t seen much of before. By letting the affected communities tell their story, instead of having someone else telling their story for them, they are working together with these communities to take back some of the agency that for varying reasons have been taken away from them. I have been following the work of Fearless Collective for years, and during the time working with this blog where we are putting the relationship of activism and new media in the spotlight, it had me thinking a lot about how the work of Fearless Collective could possibly also be put into this context. What I’m thinking is that when we are discussing and debating the relationship of activism and new media, the possible positive and negative aspects and impacts of new media and ICT on activism, it’s quite easy to lose perspective. While we see examples all around (not only the ones that has been presented and discussed in this blog) of how new media has been able to mobilise activists and enhance activism all over the world, we mustn’t forget that if we put too much effort into performing development work via ICT channels, we will ignore a lot of people who do not have access to such platforms, and thereby a lot of activism might be lost.

Combined with their public art projects, Fearless is using new media platforms to spread their word and draw attention to their projects and their agenda. They have a website where every project is being thoroughly presented, and they are also active users of platforms such as Instagram and Facebook where anyone can find them and follow their work. Through their Instagram account, they are also behind hashtags such as #fearlesslove, #fearlessfriday and #fearlessfutures, where they are promoting both their projects and their agendas, and encouraging action, mobilisation and fearlessness. The work that the Fearless Collective is doing, is an astonishing example of how we can spread awareness and mobilise activists in communities where access to ICT platforms is not a reality to everyone, while still using these platforms to spread their work and draw even more attention to their cause.

The project “I wear my body without shame”, South Africa

Many things make Fearless Collective a unique social change advocate, and one thing that I would like to highlight is how their usage of more traditional media (in this case, street art) in combination with new media outlets (ICT and social media platforms), is a great example of how development initiatives can be designed to cover a multiple range of communication channels, and reach out to as many as possible. If you are unfamiliar with the work of the Fearless Collective, I suggest you go check them out as soon as you get the chance.

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2 Responses to Activism through street art with the Fearless Collective

  1. Iben Cecilie Nilsson says:

    This is a really interesting and important perspective on the subject of ICT and social change. In our eagerness to use and implement the latest technologies in social change contexts, we often forget the value of traditional modes of communication. The medium of street art combined with a strong ICT presence is a really effective way of reaching local communities while mobilizing and communicating worldwide.
    I’m also reminded of what John Clammer writes about “visual justice”, that beauty is reserved for the wealthy. He argues that artistic movements should play a larger role in studies of social justice because aesthetics ought to be regarded as a basic human need. The Fearless Collective is distributing resources of (non-consumerist) beauty in their work, which is an important, but often overlooked, aspect of social justice.

  2. Elahe says:

    First of all I want to thank you for introducing this group, I didnät know them before and I found it very interesting.
    For me, the most precious aspect of their work as you mentioned is “claiming the public space”, where they (women in general) have been a victim of different discrimination. Public spaces have always been very gendered, mostly occupied and owned by men during the history. Using Art as a tool for claiming back the space can be seen through the work of graffiti artists for example, but the thing that is more valuable in this case is its collectivness. By making these paintings on the walls, theses woman are not just passive users of the public space anymore, but more subjective citizens who raise their voice and claim their right of owning the streets.

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