It’s been said that art can often be the most powerful expression of truth — and that was the focus at Amnesty International’s 50th Annual General Meeting in Brooklyn. The meeting came just a short time before a recently announced partnership between MTV World and Amnesty International’s Art for Amnesty, a program that unites artists around the world so they can inspire people to act. In celebration of the power of art and activism, Amnesty hosted a renowned panel of artists and creators, including Annie Lennox, Harry Belafonte, Laura Poitras, Jesse Williams, Estelle, Piper Kerman and MTV World’s General Manager, Nusrat Durrani.
The panel, “A Conversation with the Gatekeepers of Truth,” explored art’s ability to advance issues, address problems, and promote engagement in order to touch the humanity in us all. Panelists agreed that artists have a responsibility to use their voice, intellect and creativity to push for positive change, to which Durrani offered an example from his own experience:
“In my work with Rebel Music, a documentary series about young people around the world, musicians and activists are trying to change their circumstances and fighting against oppression and injustice. The role we’re playing in that is to hold a mirror to the truth, hold a mirror to reality as it really exists.”
MTV World recently announced that the “Rebel Music” series will return for a new season on April 30, premiering on MTV’s YouTube channel. In partnership with Art for Amnesty, the show will amplify the unheard and inspiring stories of young artists and activists and launch a contest spotlighting artists around the world. The contest, which will live on Rebel Music’s Tumblr, will provide a platform for the enormous online activist community, with top submissions featured on MTV, Rebel Music, and Art for Amnesty’s social media. MTV will donate $1 to Amnesty International for every submission.
Legendary musician and actor Harry Belafonte also spoke eloquently about how he used his career and work to advance social causes. “Art is the radical voice of civilization,” said Belafonte. “Utterances like that attracted me to the world of art because I was not an artist who became an activist. I was an activist who became an artist.”
Prior to the panel, audiences saw presentations from “Artists on the Front Lines,” which included Favianna Rodriguez, Jesse Krimes, Jie-Song Zhang, and a special reflection from New Orleans-based artist Brandan Odums. Odums received a standing ovation for his work in his hometown transforming abandoned housing structures after Hurricane Katrina into murals depicting key figures in history from James Baldwin to Martin Luther King Jr. and more.
From the inspirational words of the panelists to the compelling artistic presentations, this event underscored how important it is for artists to use their unique voices to speak their truth, reflect on society and culture, and push for positive change.