our words make worlds

Interview: Art, Activism, Digital Technologies and University Collaborations

By Sophie Stevens and Gail Bulman

On 27th July, Sophie Stevens, based at King’s and working on Language Acts and Worldmaking, and Gail Bulman, based at Syracuse University and working on Language Matters, were interviewed by Ricardo Mena Burgos on the Chilean radio programme TXS World. They discussed the significance of art and activism in Latin America, the UK and the US and in this blog post, they reflect on that discussion. A link to a recording of the interview in Spanish, available on Spotify, is at the bottom of this page.

Since 2018, Language Acts has been collaborating, exchanging ideas and developing work with colleagues at Syracuse University working on the Language Matters project. In May 2019, Sophie Stevens and Catherine Boyle from the Translation Acts strand attended the launch of Language Matters. They shared their work on new initiatives to innovate and transform the undergraduate curriculum in Modern Languages. These initiatives adopt interdisciplinary and service-led approaches to teaching to enable students to actively make connections beyond the university. One of the new initiatives that Stevens and Boyle presented particularly resonated with Mena Burgos and other participants at the Language Matters launch and is beginning to make curricular impact at Syracuse University and beyond: Art and Activism in the Digital Age.

Sophie: In the interview, I had the opportunity to share how, through Language Acts and Worldmaking, I have worked with Renata Brandão on the Digital Mediations strand to create new research and teaching on art and activism, including a new undergraduate module, Art and Activism in the Digital Age. We discussed student interest in this topic, particularly from students who might already be involved in activist groups or projects, as we know many of our students are. Both Gail and I shared our hope that our classes, in which we introduce students to Latin American art in multiple forms, can be really creative spaces where students might reflect on artivist (activism through art) work and develop their own creative practices. One of the ways Renata and I hope to achieve this is through introducing student-generated podcasts.

We are seeing more and more examples of the intersections between art, activism and digital platforms, including the use of social media. I discussed how some of the most interesting and exciting examples of artivist work that I have studied in the Uruguayan context rely on both live activities and interventions, often taking place in the street where an audience is created around a live performance, and digital recordings and images which are shared to create a community of artists and activists around these events. When analysing these interventions and performances, I think it is essential to understand them as located within a specific cultural context and also as part of a network of global activist practices which raise awareness of issues affecting the world today. Currently, there are many debates about what we gain or lose through digital access to arts, performances and cultural spaces. Gail and I agreed that for our students, this type of access to resources in Latin America could be transformative, enabling them to see contemporary works that they would not otherwise encounter.

Gail: Producing art and seeing art are always transformative experiences. In many ways, art is and has always been activism because it demands critical reflection and opens creative perspectives on the world that go beyond everyday experiences. However, the digital age helps to democratize art: it allows access to spectators from all walks of life and geographic locations; it legitimizes ‘street art’ and allows marginalized artists to perform their craft in public spaces, even when they don’t have access to more formal or state-sanctioned venues; it questions official archives by creating new digital archives that exist alongside the official stories, and which can be shared and commented on by a broad range of interlocutors. In the interview, I discussed how Latin American theater and performance have always been at the forefront in terms of democratizing art. From Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed (1974) to the present day, Latin American citizens and artists continue to find innovative ways and new aesthetics through which they can express and react to social injustices, marginalization, inequities and violence. Digital spaces can help preserve these new art forms, disseminate their messages and enhance their power. In this way, art and activism in the digital age impacts individuals and redefines communities.

Thank you to Ricardo for the opportunity to discuss these ideas and we hope to be able to continue the conversation in the future.

You can access the full interview here.


You can read more about Language Matters here.

You can read more about the new module, Art and Activism in the Digital Age here.

You can link to TXS Radio here.