There’s more than one way to be an activist, and that is to say, there’s more than one way to raise your voice and speak up in the name of change. One of these ways is through art and creativity.

In every fight for justice there is a story to be told. Art is one of the most powerful tools we have for communicating those stories, sharing lived experiences, and fighting for global change in the mission to end extreme poverty and the systemic causes that drive it. 

So get ready to be inspired by the artist-activists who are shaking things up and making a difference through their creativity.

In this list, we explore the work of fearless individuals who are using their creativity to challenge norms, amplify voices, and shape a better future. From political cartoonists to visionary photographers, these artists are sparking conversations, provoking thought, and driving social change.

El Anatsui, Sculptor

El Anatsui, a visionary originally from Ghana, blends discarded materials into breathtaking sculptures that, in themselves, advocate for change and prompt us to reimagine our relationship with the environment.

His meticulous artistry serves as a vivid reminder of environmental challenges and promotes responsible consumption while honoring cultural diversity. Anatsui's installations go beyond galleries, they ignite contemplation and spark a dialogue on pressing social issues, inviting collective action.

El Anatsui captures the essence of his causes. He inspires us to reassess our relationship with the environment. His narrative emboldens us to embrace cultural diversity, and become catalysts for a future where creativity, compassion, and activism seamlessly intertwine.

From discarded materials to transcendent art, Anatsui's work ignites change, fueling a brighter tomorrow.

Ghada Amer, Contemporary Artist

Ghada Amer, a trailblazing artist and relentless gender equity activist, fearlessly breaks boundaries and sparks conversations that challenge societal norms. Born in Egypt and now based in the United States, Amer draws inspiration from her multicultural background to create powerful and thought-provoking works of art.

Driven by a desire to challenge stereotypes and celebrate women's empowerment, Amer's artistry (which primarily comes in the form of embroidery, but she's also known for painting, drawing, and sculpting) takes center stage.

With her needle and thread, she weaves intricate embroideries that defy traditional notions of femininity. It invites viewers to question and reimagine societal expectations. Her bold and vibrant paintings redefine the concept of the nude, presenting the female form as a symbol of strength and liberation.

Amer's journey is deeply-rooted in her experiences as a woman navigating different cultures and societies. Her art bridges divides, fostering cultural understanding and inclusivity. She tackles social issues, amplifying marginalized voices, and advocating for a more equitable world.

Yoko Ono, Musician & Visual Artist

The enigmatic muse of peace from Japan, Yoko Ono, intertwines dreams of peace and harmony into her music and visual arts. From her serene melodies to her captivating visual creations, she reminds us that the world is a canvas waiting to be painted with unity. With each stroke of her brush or whispered musical note, she invites us to imagine a world free from conflict and division.

Yoko Ono's art is a universal embrace, a call for love and understanding that resonates across cultures and generations. Through her work, Ono's legacy continues to promote peace, encouraging us to embrace compassion and unity in our collective pursuit of a better world.

Olafur Eliasson, Contemporary Artist

An installation called "Dreamscape" by Olafur Eliasson
Image: Flickr/Thomas Hawke

Olafur Eliasson is the master of immersive experiences through the large structures and sculptures he creates. His work transports us to awe-inspiring realms that prioritize environmental consciousness.

Through his kaleidoscopic installations, that tend to use the natural elements such as air and water, he unravels the invisible threads binding humans and nature — reminding us of our profound interconnectedness and calling for urgent action for earth's protection. Each beam of light, droplet of water, or gust of wind he crafts in his captivating physical experiences serves as a catalyst for change, inviting us to embrace our role as stewards of the planet.

His art compels us to reflect on our relationship with the environment and make conscious choices that contribute to its preservation. 

Faith Ringgold, Painter

Faith Ringgold, bridges the rich heritage of the US' Harlem Renaissance to the vibrant voices of young Black artists today. Her brushstrokes engage in a spirited dialogue with the art scene of early 20th century Paris, challenging the status quo and shedding light on marginalized narratives.

Ringgold's art is a visual symphony that harmonizes activism. A great example of this is in one of her pieces, called "The Flag is Bleeding #2", where she utilizes her signature quilting technique to portray an African American woman on the American flag amidst scenes of holding on to her children as she bleeds. With evocative imagery, Ringgold confronts issues of injustice, inspiring reflection and a call to action for positive transformation.

Ali Ferzat, Political Cartoonist

Ali Ferzat, the daring political cartoonist from Syria, fearlessly wields his pen as a powerful weapon against oppressive regimes. His illustrations pierce through the fabric of authoritarianism, revealing the raw truth that lies beneath. Despite facing unimaginable brutality, Ferzat's indomitable spirit remains unyielding.

His biting cartoons stand as powerful symbols of resistance, shedding light on the atrocities committed by the Syrian government and inspiring others to raise their voices against injustice.

Through his art, Ferzat becomes a voice for the silenced, reminding us of the impact that art can have in challenging oppressive systems and fueling hope for a brighter future. He shows courage and resilience, particularly in his aptly-titled collection "A Pen of Damascus Steel." Like the legendary metalwork, his pen becomes a powerful tool, fearlessly exposing injustices and challenging authority.  

Zanele Muholi, Photographer

Step into the captivating world of Zanele Muholi, the activist and masterful photographer from South Africa. Through their lens, they unveil the realities found within LGBTQI+ stories, challenging norms and reshaping perceptions of beauty. Each intimate and evocative portrait captured by Muholi becomes a vessel for social change, dismantling stereotypes, and amplifying the voices of those historically silenced. Their art goes beyond reflection; it is a mirror demanding recognition, acceptance, and equality for the LGBTQI+ community.

With every click of the camera, Muholi emerges as a flare of hope, documenting the lives and experiences of LGBTQI+ individuals, unearthing untold narratives, and painting a vivid picture of resilience and authenticity. Through their artistry, Muholi illuminates the path towards social change, especially on the African continent where LGBTQI+ rights remain under serious threat, urging us all to embrace diversity and celebrate the profound beauty of individuality.

Their most poignant work includes portraits captured in "Faces and Phases" since 2006. These powerful black and white portraits document Black lesbians, bi, trans, and gender non-conforming individuals, providing visibility to their diverse stories. Accompanied by moving testimonies, the images narrate the challenges and experiences that shape their journey, making a profound impact before Muholi's lens. Their work stands as a testament to the transformative impact of art as a catalyst for a more inclusive and accepting world.

Emi Mahmoud, Poet & UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador

Emi Mahmoud is a mesmerizing spoken-word force. She's a Sudanese-American artist who uses poetry as a tool for change. With the fervor of her verses, she places the spotlight on the plight of refugees, captivating hearts and minds worldwide.

Mahmoud's journey as a refugee to a renowned activist infuses her poetry with an unyielding passion, sparking flames of action in her audience. Her poetry becomes a bridge, uniting cultures, and igniting the fight for human rights. Through her artistry and unwavering advocacy, Mahmoud highlights the power of artists to shape a brighter world — one poignant verse at a time.

These artists embody the transformative power of art as a guiding light for social change. With brushstrokes, melodies, and visual art installations that defy boundaries, they ignite conversations, challenge norms, and inspire transformation. Their creativity leaves an indelible mark, resonating far beyond their communities.

Their work serves as a testament to the extraordinary influence of creativity in shaping a more equitable society. Fearlessly defying the status quo, these artists prompt us to question, reflect, and take action, urging us to harness our own talents to drive social impact.

These artists are living proof that art has the power to captivate hearts, propel minds, and shape a world that is equal, just, and inclusive.

Global Citizen Life

Demand Equity

8 Artists Using Their Creativity to Drive Activism

By Cherono Keter