The Connection Between Art and Activism

Oct 20, 2016


Credit Meili Stokes

In a construction project to move oil across the United States, the Dakota Access Pipeline has been met with much resistance. The pipeline challengers have used art, song, video and other creative outlets to raise awareness of the dangers they believe the pipeline has toward the environment.

In Utah, Cali Bulmash and Meili Stokes are activists who were arrested earlier this year in southern Utah while protesting the chemical process of using tar sand rocks to develop oil. They wanted to expose the process’s harmful effects they believe could cause pollutants to leak into the Colorado River. A river that is currently the source of water for 30 million people and supports the environment for many ecosystems.



Cali Bulmash uses music and poetry to share their message.


“When I create art it’s inherently political or as some would label activism," Bulmash said. "Because I need to create to express myself but also you can use your words to tell a story. You can use your images to catch someone’s eye and get them to pay attention to whatever campaign or cause it is that you are working with or fighting with.”


Bulmash believes art is able to reach more people than other forms of protesting.


“The beauty of art images and spoken word poems and these songs is that it opens up people’s ears," Bulmash said.


While Bulmash uses art to reach others, it also helps them connect with themself.


“I will always need to make space to process these things that are happening in the world," Bulmash said. "And I operate in a way that my processing mode is creation station—is making songs, poems, prints. I process through these works of art and my art is my contribution.”



Credit Meili Stokes

Meili Stokes also found that her artwork is influenced by the political and cultural context around her.


“All art is political," Stokes said. "In my art education, art is meant to be apolitical. It’s meant to be very personal but we are always making art within a particular context. I choose to look at the fact that all of my art exists within a cultural context. You can try to make art that’s apolitical and maybe it can be sort of gently healing—but even that’s political to me. It’s the politics of self-care, the activism of beauty, of creating beauty and surrounding yourself with beauty- but you're doing that in the context of a really horrifying world.”


Recreating experiences through different artistic mediums also allows Stokes to find purpose.


“I think it’s also a way to carry yourself from action to action—because these they take a lot of energy," Stokes said. "They take a lot of strength and cooperation. And that can be really draining, at least in my experience, even if it’s also very hope building. Actually to me—my goal with art is to make art about the movements, about the high points in an activist movement and allow that to carry you through the dark times in-between those opportunities to act back.”