Art for social justice: 12 remarkable women

2 Posted by - April 30, 2012 - Features, Policy, Public art, Visual art

Natalia Estemirova

Twelve women. Twelve stories of political courage. Twelve portraits. The Roots to Resistance project is spreading word about the groundbreaking work of twelve women who have dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice.

Denise Beaudet is the artist behind the portraits. Postcards of these images and small posters are available free for the asking and are being sent around the world. The goal of the project is to inspire by sharing these women’s heroic struggles against corruption, exploitation and oppression.

The portraits include Aung San Suu Kyi, Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Rebecca Gomperts, Natalia Estemirova, Malalai Joya, Chouchou Namegabe, Zapatista Women, Maria Gunnoe, Yvonne Margarula, Dita Indah Sari, Marina Silva.

The Roots projects is raising money through Kickstarter for the next phase of the project. The fundraising campaign runs to May 5th.

I caught up with Beaudet to ask her a few questions about her work and about the project …

After ordering the postcards, local groups send them to political and corporate leaders — national and regional heads of state, elected officials, corporate executives. The black and white posters are put up locally in schools, on the street, etc. More than 70 community groups and schools are participating including groups from Kenya, Russia, Guatemala, Australia, South Africa, Afghanistan, New Zealand and across Europe and the United States.

I sense that in doing this project you have discovered a global community of educators, students and youth, artists … tell me a little about what that experience has been like ..

The experience has been amazing. To be connected to women, activists and communities in Serbia, South Africa, New Zealand, Chechnya, Mexico, Fiji lifts my spirits and makes me profoundly hopeful. The work being done across the globe, well it is happening and it is happening everywhere. When I feel myself getting discouraged about politics here and in the world I just remind myself that it is people I believe in, not politics.

Tell me a little about your background – how important was formal training? 

Lets see my formal training…. Well my Mom was actually very creative and did a lot of Arts/Crafts things with us. I think she recognized that I needed a creative outlet for my very fertile imagination and so she put me in lots of Arts/Painting and drawing classes. I went to College in my early 20’s, a tiny two year school called Greenfield Community College where I became a Printmaking major(though I am now mostly a painter). It was there that all of the magic happened, the roots of who I am today. It wasn’t so much the formal training though that was important as well. It was learning the skill of pulling my insides out and transforming them into Art. It was gaining the confidence and support to know that there were no limits. I could create from my thoughts, feelings, imagination and this was brand new to me. It was really much like the religious experiences that I have heard people describe except I had found Art instead of God.

Have you always been interested in social justice?

No I have not always been interested in Social Justice. My family was not at all political and I was not introduced to ideas of politics and social justice until I hit my 30’s. Before that time my art was really a reflection and purge of some earlier and more difficult times, therapy so to speak. I began to become close to people who were activists and I was completely blown out of the water by these new ideas, completely hooked, enraptured and amazed by how deeply pushed into the sand my head was.  So as things often are with my art, I am painting what is on my mind and what is charging and propelling me in my life.

Up until very recently my Art has really mostly been about my experience really more than anything else. There was a turning point though, about four years ago. I had an open studio and the amazing and radical muralist Mike Alewitz walked in and struck up a conversation with me about art. I was a huge fan, loved his work and was really thrilled that he was appreciating mine. When he left he said simply “ Your art should be in the streets, but I guess you can stay here and keep doing therapy if you want.” It made me do a lot of thinking and in the end it has pulled me completely away from the mainstream Art scene. Instead I focus on art for people and communities.  Art that is propelling radical ideas and radical voices, art that connects people intimately with the natural world, art that connects us to each other.

How would you describe the relationship between politics and art? There are many in the art world who condemn explicitly political art …

Well, I am not on much of a soapbox with this issue. I think as artists we choose what to make our art about, it is a personal choice and I don’t think anyone out there is in a position to condemn whether an artist chooses to express politically. I think that art, music, film, writing have this ability to create profoundly powerful feelings inside of us as human beings. I think that it is the presence of these kinds of explosive, inspired, joyful, connected, angry feelings that create change and I think that being informed of course is so critical but it is our feelings that often drive us and inspire us to action.

Tell me a little about why you chose portraiture …

I think really I chose portraiture because to a certain extent on at least one level the work has always been autobiographical. So the people in the work are always partially expressing what is happening for me.

Can you describe the Global Postering and Postcard Campaign, and how people can get involved …

Yes! The Global Postcard and Street Postering campaigns are a way that we take each of the 12 women activists and bring their stories and voices to the wider global community. So for example we painted the 8 foot high portrait of Afghan peace and women’s rights activist Malalai Joya, and it lives for now in the Western Massachusetts community, but is not experienced by a wider audience. So we created postcards and street posters with the message of Malalai Joya countering the Western claims of bringing peace and freedom to Afghan women and stating instead that the U.S is in fact responsible for bringing more violence to women and girls in Afghanistan. The postcards are addressed to President Obama and they ask him to end this war now and save the lives of untold amounts of Afghan civilians and American soldiers. The Postcards are shipped to our more than 75 partner organizations across the planet, and are then brought to local communities where people are encouraged to use their own voices by signing and mailing them on to their final destinations. The street posters are sent with a different intention. They are meant to be put up in homes, schools and communities and to connect the voices of the women activists to those putting up the posters and encountering them. The postcards and posters are meant to engage people in the world and not the virtual world but the real world that they work in, their homes and the streets they are walking in. Their purpose is to share the amazing voices and work of the 12 activists and more importantly to give a voice to global communities who support their work and their message.

To be involved in this Global Postcard and Street Postering Campaign,  just contact Roots To Resistance at invisible_earth[at]   The materials are sent for free and we just ask that you bring them to your Community. Join Us Today!

What will happen to the large portraits after the project is over?

When the project is completed the portraits, postcards and posters will be heading out on a national and hopefully international tour. We will bring the project to public and community spaces, handing out postcards and putting up Posters far and wide to all who will receive them. The vision at the moment is to have the project installed in a large vehicle that can serve as a traveling public gallery. When the tour is completed the portraits will be sold, with 50% of the proceeds going to the women activists and their organizations.

What’s next?

Well this project will take a great deal of my time, the next 3 years probably at least. After that I will resume the project that I have been slowly working on for some time. “The History Of Evolution In Pictures” a history that intimately ties and connects we human to all of our non human ancestors. Essentially it will be an exploration and celebration of the magic of the natural world without limits.

For more information about the Roots to Resistance project, go to Denise Beaudet’e website.

Leave a reply