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For Artists, the World Was a Canvas for Change in 2015

Photo by Tobias Abel. CC BY-ND 2.0

Photo by Tobias Abel. CC BY-ND 2.0

Art is a powerful language that can resonate across countries and cultures, and as such, artists picked up their paintbrushes and pointed their cameras in acts of solidarity, protest and reflection throughout 2015.

Global Voices authors took you around the world this year covering these inspiring stories of creativity. As the New Year approaches, let's take a look back at 16 of them.

1. Peru

A Peruvian teenager won the Internet's heart with her performances of well-known songs translated into the indigenous Quechua language.

2. Egypt

Egyptians gleefully remixed the “national anthem” of ISIS as dance tracks to mock the brutal militant group.

3. Croatia

In Croatia, activists “renamed” about 150 street signs after significant women throughout history using A4 or A5 paper as a reminder that even though the country elected its first female president, much remains to be done in terms of women's rights.

Photo: a street sign renamed after Vesna Parun, a Croatian poet Credits: Marinella Matejcic

A street sign renamed after Vesna Parun, a Croatian poet.
Credits: Marinella Matejcic

4. Hong Kong

Traditional Lunar New Year envelopes in Hong Kong became a canvas for social and political protest. One set of envelopes featured a rainbow twist in support of LGBT acceptance, while another incorporated yellow umbrellas as an homage to the so-called “Umbrella Revolution” in which protesters for months demanded that the Beijing and Hong Kong governments allow citizens to nominate the candidates for the city's top leaders.

A set of yellow umbrella red envelopes distributed by Um dot dot dot.

A set of yellow umbrella red envelopes distributed by Um dot dot dot.

5. Brazil 

Embroidery became a tool for women in Brazil to express their frustration with the violence perpetuated by energy companies looking to exploit local communities for their resources.

Art made by Brazilian cartoonist Vitor for the arpilleras project. Image: Arpilleras: Bordando a resistência/Facebook.

Art made by Brazilian cartoonist Vitor for the arpilleras project. Image: Arpilleras: Bordando a resistência/Facebook.

6. Yemen

War in Yemen has left a humanitarian catastrophe in its wake and a growing animosity among fellow countrymen and women. Yemeni artists used their talents to create works promoting the important message of unity in such trying times.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153594935751509&set=a.10151232797531509.488025.667161508&type=1&theater

A mural in Sana'a of Yemen's flag using shattered glass of homes from a Saudi-led airstrike.

7. Gaza

Gazans were still picking up the pieces of their lives following the Israeli offensive in the summer of 2014 that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. UK artist Kerry Beall decided to paint portraits of those who had lost their lives.

Portraits of Gaza's victims by Kerry Beall

Portraits of Gaza's victims by Kerry Beall

8. Mexico

A gigantic mural painted onto a canvas of 200 homes in Pachuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, created jobs, reduced youth violence and instilled a sense of community spirit in the struggling city.

Las Palmitas and the “macro mural” in its final stage. Photo taken with permission from the Germen Crew collective's Facebook page.

Las Palmitas and the “macro mural” in its final stage. Photo taken with permission from the Germen Crew collective's Facebook page.

9. Latin America and Italy

Although an ocean separates Latin America from Europe, to which streams of refugees are fleeing, an exhibition in Italy featuring the work of Latin American artists promoted compassion for refugees and immigrants.

Exposition of migrant art on immigration. Photo used with permission. Photo courtesy Progetto 7LUNE.

Exposition of migrant art on immigration. Photo used with permission. Photo courtesy Progetto 7LUNE.

10. Madagascar

The film “Ady Gasy” (The Malagasy Way) documented the ingenuity of Madagascar's people against poverty, famine and flooding in repurposing old tires into sandals and empty cans into toys.

11. Singapore

Photographer Edwin Koo captured the everyday drama of riding the overcrowded public transportation system in Singapore:

…the photos of Transit are not acts of self-gratification, not weapons of malice, and definitely not tools of instantaneous incrimination. They are a collective portrait of the society that we live in today.

Photo by Edwin Koo. Used with permission

Photo by Edwin Koo. Used with permission

12. Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, religious extremists fueled deadly hatred against those they label atheists. Four secular bloggers and publishing house executive were assassinated in 2015 alone. While the right to free expression is enshrined the country's constitution and Bangladesh is a secular state, the government has done little to discourage these attacks or bring killers to justice.

In the face of such troubling developments, Bengalis in Bangladesh dedicated their colorful New Year's celebrations to combating communalism and religious fanaticism with the theme “Onek Alo Jaalte Hobe Moner Ondhokare” (Burn many lights in the darkness of hearts).

People celebrating Pahela Baishakh at Mangal Shobhajatra (Rally), a procession organised by Dhaka University’s Faculty of Fine Arts to welcome the Bengali new year. Image by  Sourav Lasker. Copyright Demotix (14/4/2015)

People celebrating Pahela Baishakh at Mangal Shobhajatra (Rally), a procession organised by Dhaka University’s Faculty of Fine Arts to welcome the Bengali new year. Image by Sourav Lasker. Copyright Demotix (14/4/2015)

13. Uruguay

A photographer in Uruguay focused his work on what some in the country would rather forget — those who disappeared during the dictatorship. “Memory is something that can be quite necessary for some, but also something that needs to be denied by others,” he said.

One of Miradas Ausentes pictures in Montevideo | Photo: Juan Urruzola/Reproduced with permission

One of the Miradas Ausentes photos in Montevideo. Photo: Juan Urruzola. Used with permission

14. Philippines

Filipino artist Federico Boyd Sulapas Dominguez painted the struggle of the indigenous peoples of the Philippines against destructive mining, development aggression, and militarization.

Aside from exposing the negative impact of militarization, the painting also shows how government laws unfairly discriminate against the Philippines' ethnic communities. Painting by Federico Boyd Sulapas Dominguez, reposted with permission

Aside from exposing the negative impact of militarization, the painting also shows how government laws unfairly discriminate against the Philippines’ ethnic communities. Painting by Federico Boyd Sulapas Dominguez, reposted with permission

15. Malaysia

Political cartoonist Zulkiflee Sm Anwar Ulhaque, more popularly known as Zunar in Malaysia, faced  several sedition charges. Despite the looming threat of prosecution, he promised to continue using his pen to criticize government corruption, human rights violations, and abuses of power:

Talent is not a gift, but a responsibility. So I will use it as a tool to convey people’s voice through art and to push for total reform for a better Malaysia. I will not keep quiet. How can I be neutral, even my pen has a stand!

From the Facebook page of Zunar Kartunis

From the Facebook page of Zunar Kartunis

16. Hungary

Hungarians created hilarious parodies of the government's xenophobic anti-immigration billboards using paint and Photoshop.

"If you come to bat country you have to abide by our laws!" - homage to Hunter S. Thompson and his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“If you come to bat country you have to abide by our laws!” – homage to Hunter S. Thompson and his novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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