Art is extremely powerful because it can embody a higher consciousness that transcends basic human impulses such as fear.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It is a strong driver of our behavior, and given the complexities of life, we often operate from a framework of fear. All of which highlights the power of fear in dictating attitudes and behavior. However, art can communicate higher truths; like, why fear is an illusion and why hate is only a reflection of a limited perspective.
But what makes art significantly powerful is its capacity to ignite empathy; the ability to see the world through multiple eyes.
In our world, fear is a common motivator that is not only misguiding individuals, but entire nations. Many of our shared narratives give rise to fear, the type that gives rise to hate which then gives rise to perpetual cycles of never-ending violence. An example of fear-based narratives is the “us vs. them” rhetoric, commonly found in and within many societies. This rhetoric unfortunately lies in the deep unconscious wells of our minds, due to how we were socialized through fear. Usually “them” have some outstandingly different characteristic that is perceived as dangerous, evil, and threatening. Immigrants, for example, are oftentimes associated with “them”, the outsiders, the threatening ones, and that is because they come from a different place, they look different, and they speak a different language. And because of their difference, many incomplete stories and narratives have been colored by stereotypes and biases.
Art has the power to convey complex dimensions of this rhetoric: “them”, the outsiders; because its capacity to ignite empathy transcends our human spoken language.
As the saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
A single artwork can move people on deeper levels. It touches their emotions, and communicates inspiring messages that are much more difficult to include in normative mediums.
If “us” was to come into contact with “them” through art, we will retain the capacity to see the humanity in whom we once perceived as dangerous. Because how can something dangerous create something so beautiful, creative, and meaningful like art? Or more so, how can can this dangerous other share the same emotions as 'me'? The ability to realize how much we relate to one another, allows for our hearts to open up and accept.
Art does not ask for toleration. Art demands understanding and connection.
Art can show us the stories of “them” that are not colored by bias and stereotypes because it is “them” who have created it. Art puts us directly into contact with the other's story. It, therefore, allows us to achieve a higher understanding of who “them” actually is.
Art does not only allow change to happen, art makes change happen!
That is why creative initiatives like De-Orientalizing Art holds vital importance. De-Orientalizing Art aims to dismantle fear by helping different societies connect through meaningful art instead of false narratives politics currently portrays.
By Yasmeen al-Gerbi