Global Citizen’s Emerging Creatives Program provides a platform for emerging creatives in the Global South that are highlighting the need for open civic space worldwide. Through their art, they call for change, shine a light on social injustices, and advocate for the advancement of the Global Goals.

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MAY 2024 SPOTLIGHT

Tariq Lawal

“My art is basically my way of reimagining a better way to be in the world. It is what makes me feel like the world is not enough but it can be.” - Tariq Lawal 

Lagos-born 18-year-old writer, poet, artivist, and changemaker Tariq Lawal describes himself as “everything and nothing” due to his varying number of interests and passions. Raised by a single mother, Lawal said his creativity was unlocked by his upbringing. 

“I spent most of my time daydreaming about different realities in my house,” he said. “Lagos Island is a very chaotic place, there is so much going on and I get lots of inspiration from living in an environment like this one. I do a lot of people-watching which is why I would like to become a sociologist some day.” 

For Lawal art became a way for him to engage with and speak about the issues he cares about without being in the spotlight. He explained, “I used to be pretty shy even though I have always cared about social injustices. I felt like I wasn’t confident enough to go out in the streets to advocate for issues I care about dearly, so I started to use poetry and graphic design to express my desire for a more just, equitable, and fair world.

He continued: “I love being creative honestly, it is one of my biggest flexes. I am always able to come up with a very fun and creative way to bring awareness to issues I care about.” Lawal started writing poetry about social issues when he was 15, writing about gender inequality and misogyny in Nigeria, then later on he dealt with issues such as education, euphoria, pain, fear, mental health and more. Given the risks of being an activist in Nigeria, where civic space is considered to be repressed by the CIVICUS monitor, Lawal told us how he uses art as activism. 

“Art is also the way I am the most comfortable expressing my discomfort with the status quo. Being an activist in Nigeria is not safe, there is literally no one to protect you. I have heard stories of Nigerian activists that got killed or attacked so I feel using art to disrupt the status quo is much safer and it saves me from terrible incidents that come with activism. In fact, I used to be uncomfortable with speaking out on issues I care about in person but as time went on, I started being more comfortable with using my voice both online and offline.”

Lawal has used his art to discuss gender inequality, racism, sexism, poverty, toxic masculinity, corruption, queerphobia, outdated education systems. For his spotlight as a Global Citizen Emerging Creative, he created a postmodern graphic artwork that spotlights climate change’s impact on his home, Lagos Island. “Art is an important tool for activism because it lets people empathize with other people and feel a sense of urgency regarding these issues,” he expressed. 

For Lawal, creatives and artists that use their art as a tool for activism are needed. “We have so much power. Our creative work has the power to shake the world in its own way, to call out injustices in a gentle way, and lead to wider change. We need to keep doing our work because we are tackling injustice with every piece of work we create. I personally have to keep doing what I do because I want the world to change. I am not comfortable with the status quo, I want to live in a just and more equitable world already.” 

NOVEMBER 2023 SPOTLIGHT

Fred Mfuranzima

“I won't stay in my lane, I use my art to fight against hate and rage, for a brighter future, I'll continue to engage.”- Fred Mfuranzima

Fred Mfuranzima is a Rwandan writer, poet, artist, and activist working in the Great Lakes region. Born in Huye District in Southern Rwanda, Mfuranzima came from a family that survived the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, where an estimated 800,000 to 1 million people were killed in the space of 100 days. 

“In my early years, we relocated to the slums of Kigali, where I experienced the harsh realities of poverty, domestic conflicts, and a broken family,” he recalls. “Our parents, despite feeling hopeless, did their best to raise and educate us with the support of the government and various organisations. Growing up as part of the post-genocide generation, I became the hope for my family and community. Witnessing the challenges faced by impoverished and traumatised families, I was inspired to utilise my talents to serve my community.” 

This led to him writing several books, doing poetry-music performances, conducting exhibitions, organising dialogues, and becoming a peace and mental health activist — eventually founding initiatives like Imfura Heritage

“Witnessing the devastating consequences of genocide, conflicts, social injustice, I realised the power of creativity to spark change. Through my art, I aim to challenge societal norms, raise awareness, and inspire dialogue for a more healing, reconciliation, unity, inclusive and equitable community,” he said. 

In 2017, after graduating from high school, Mfuranzima founded Imfura Heritage, a multidisciplinary art centre that serves “as a safe space for peace and healing, with the aim of using arts, literature, and intellectual learnings to inspire peace, mental health development, and human rights activism among youth artists..” 

Mfuranzima said that Imfura Heritage has made a significant impact on the community of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region by fostering dialogue, promoting healing, and empowering the youth to become agents of positive transformation through culture. 

Having witnessed the consequences of violence and division, Mfuranzima said he is driven to promote peace and inclusivity because, “the impact of a lack of peace is devastating... I won't stay in my lane, I use my art to fight against hate and rage, for a brighter future, I'll continue to engage.” 
However, using art for building peaceful and inclusive societies comes with challenges, particularly in the Rwandan context where civic space is considered repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

“One major hurdle is navigating sensitive topics and cultural nuances while ensuring the message reaches diverse audiences. Additionally, there may be resistance from those who fear change or challenging the status quo,” he told us. “As an artist, writer, and activist, I strive to express myself freely, but there can be limitations imposed by societal norms, censorship, or political pressures.” 

However, despite these challenges, Mfuranzima is not deterred and added: “I persist in finding creative ways to advocate for peace and inclusivity, adapting my approach as needed to ensure my work reaches its intended audience.” 

Mfuranzima said funding for creative projects like his is also a challenge, noting that  despite. 

Mfuranzima said passion, support, resources, freedom, and self-care fuel the work of activists and creatives like him. “These elements provide motivation, collaboration, empowerment, expression, and well-being, enabling us to continue making a difference,” he said. 

OCTOBER 2023 SPOTLIGHT

Simphiwe Molefe

“...Everyone's story matters, regardless of who you are and where you are from…” 
—Simphiwe Molefe 

Born in rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, Simphiwe Molefe is a 33 year old photographer who grew up in the East Johannesburg township of Palmridge, Katlehong. 

“Due to a lack of appropriate play-things and games, growing up in a township, especially one with a disadvantage, requires one to be creative. This factor greatly influenced my development into the creative person I am today,” he told Global Citizen. 


It was during his work as an events photographer that someone informed him about an organization called Of Soul and Joy that offers free documentary photography classes in Thokoza, a township near Johannesburg. 

“It was through this organization that I first learned about the art of expressing a narrative with photographs. That's when I realized how essential it is to share your story and that everyone's story matters, regardless of who you are and where you are from. ”

This month we’re spotlighting Molefe’s series titled Impilo Iyaqhubeka which means “life goes on” in isiZulu. The collection looks at the impact of South Africa’s ongoing power crisis which is characterized by regular and extended power outages known as load shedding. 

“Impilo Iyaqhubeka began as a visual narrative project I was working on for a school assignment as I'm in my final year at The Market Photo Workshop, and the advice we typically receive when choosing narratives is to choose something we have access to,” explained Molefe 

He continued: “I realized that most of the time during load shedding is when I get a break to pause for a moment in my surroundings, so I thought it would be great to document those moments. My series focuses on the consequences that a power outage has on our homes and on the dark streets, where individuals must use their phone flashlight to navigate, and those who sell on the street must utilize every available source of light to run their stalls because closing them is not an option.” 

“With this series and the power of photography I believe I can raise awareness about the challenges faced by my community during power outages, shedding light on social issues like access to basic services, safety concerns, and impact on daily life,” said Molefe. 

Photography during outages presented numerous challenges for Molefe himself, such as challenging his technical skill of using limited lighting which sometimes impacted sharpness in his images. There were also safety issues for him too because South Africa has high levels of  violent crime and Molefe shares that “photographing in my neighborhood doesn’t guarantee safety to myself and my equipment as anything like thieves can take advantage as it’s in the dark.” 

Other issues Molefe encountered included gaining trust from community members to collaborate with him in the creation of these images 

“They don’t know where these images are going to go so as a photographer I have to try by all means to represent my community in a good manner, and approach this project with respect and empathy to avoid sensationalism and stereotypes,” he explained. 

Despite South Africa having one of the best constitutions in the world, the country’s civic space remains an issue. The CIVICUS Monitor downgraded the country’s civic space rating from “narrowed,” to “obstructed” — the third worst rating a country can have. Meaning that the ability to speak up and stand up against issues that affect human rights in the country, is limited. That’s why Molefe believes creatives like himself have a role to play in highlighting the effects of the failure of basic services such as the power crisis in South Africa. 

“Load shedding has become a norm in our community and you’ll hear people celebrating and screaming when the power comes back — and that is not ok,” he said. “It shouldn’t be normalized, so we as creatives and activists should keep on challenging these issues with the aim of creating awareness that can activate change.” 

He added: “The power of art is that it can initiate and facilitate meaningful dialogues, bringing together people with different views to engage in constructive conversations about important issues so let’s keep on documenting these moments.”

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

Simphiwe Molefe

SEPTEMBER 2023 SPOTLIGHT

Collectivo Moriviví

Collective Moriviví is an all-woman artistic collective in Puerto Rico dedicated to “democratizing art and bringing the narratives of Puerto Rican communities to the public sphere to create spaces in which they are validated.” 

The collective began at Central High School of Visual Arts, in Santurce, where co-founders Raysa Raque Rodríguez García and Sharon González Colón studied visual art and attended a painting and drawing workshop together. 

“In the last year of high school, we started the collective because we met the coordinator of one of the most famous mural festivals here in Puerto Rico, at a conference,” Rodríguez García explained. “We proposed to him that we participate in the annual festival as representatives of the school. Everyone involved in the process — preparing the painting and the materials, creating the sketch, and also choosing and creating the mural for us — [they] were only women. We didn't plan that, it just happened that way.” 

The response to their mural was positive and generated interest in who created it, particularly because at the time, they were young girls in a world where older men traditionally did the kind of work they produced. 

She adds: “We discovered the power of muralism as a way to express art. But also [to engage with] social, political, gender topics in our public space through art. We decided that we wanted to keep doing that, but we were just too young. When we went to university we started to see and learn more about political and social issues and our work started to be more political. We then transformed our work to be a community movement. The art came first, but doing art in Puerto Rico has a relation with the political issues, even if you are just painting flowers. The context makes it political.” 

“I think doing art in Puerto Rico is a way to resist,” she continued. “Even though your work is not directly related to it, being an artist is not a very acceptable profession or [something] society thinks that is important. Even the government is always, since many years ago, trying to cut arts and culture [spending], because they know that it is important for our society because it helps us to think of other ways and be more conscious of our environment.” 
“Art helps us to be more human, to have more sensibility and to be connected with all of these things like nature. “If we don't have arts and we don't have culture, we don't have identity.”

Puerto Rico has numerous challenges such as a poverty rate of over 40%,  a debt crisis, a failing power grid, and the devastation of climate disasters such as Hurricane Maria which over the years the collective has felt the need to respond to. 

“I can pinpoint that in 2015 we were facing a lot of economic crises and a lot of budget cuts,” said González Colón “We were involved with the protests. We actually began protesting from the arts and community sector, and we got involved in that too. And then in 2016, the PRIOMESA Act was passed in Puerto Rico.” 

“And it was a necessity to react to all these things,” González Colón told Global Citizen.

However, using art as a tool for activism has not been without challenges as the pair shared that: “We have never been in a formal museum or a more established gallery space. Actually, we've tried twice to do some work with the museums in Puerto Rico and both failed because the work was too political for them, even though it was part of a very political exhibition.” 

The other challenges faced by organizations like the collective is the issue of funding, particularly grant funding which both Rodríguez García and González Colón explained doesn’t take into account the workflow of the type of community-driven work they do and how it may not always conform to funder deadlines and cycles.

In addition to using art as a tool to resist gentrification of poorer communities, the collective sees it as a tool to engage marginalized communities. “I think from our very first participation in an urban arts festival, which at the time were booming, you see artists that just paint a wall and then they leave, some of them are not from here. ” said González Colón.

She continued: “They're international artists or they come from the US. They already have their own ideas and their own style, and we saw how this was being portrayed in a space that belonged to a community. And some of them are really, really fast too, and they do [the artwork] in four days. And just the experience, that we actually got to talk with the people that lived in the house we were painting, and got to talk with the people who saw us working every day, we learned how important it was that the art related to them. And that's what sparked our interest in getting communities involved.” 

Now in their 10th year, the collective continues to use public art as a tool for community-making and for organizing around issues that impact vulnerable Puerto Rican communities. 

AUGUST 2023 SPOTLIGHT

Loïca/Angela Valenzuela 

“It’s so important for me not only as a musician, but as a climate activist to give the mic, find the voices, and to listen to what people have to say and learn how we can amplify those voices — which I try to do through music … Oftentimes marginalized communities are denied the opportunities to pursue art like music because they are fighting for other issues, such as survival, so it is really important to me to have a really intersectional approach.” — Loïca

29-year-old Chilean-born singer-songwriter and climate activist, Angela Valenzuela says music became a tool for her activism because of its ability to touch on all the issues that matter to her. 

Performing under the name Loïca, Valenzuela believes that music can create hope and togetherness — themes she thinks are important in the fight to defend the planet. 

“Songwriting [is] a way to communicate to the very heart of the issue, which is empathy and people coming together. This challenges the notion that everything is lost, and that it is easier to imagine catastrophe rather than how we can reframe and rethink our systems,” Valenzuela told Global Citizen. 

Through her work as both a climate activist and artist, Valenzuela has been involved in work that uses music and art to tell the story of the impact of the climate crisis. One such project was the 2022 Canto del Agua songwriting project in Chile, for which she was project lead and artistic director. 

In early 2023, Chile experienced what was termed a “mega drought” by the World Meteorological Organization, following a decade of dry weather which led to the deadliest wildfires in the country’s history. The project, which was made in collaboration with the Roots Project at Greenpeace, Sibelius Academy, and Mujeres MODATIMA (a feminist movement fighting for water rights in Chile), sought to tell the story of the impact that drought and the privatization of water have had on Chile. 

The involvement of communities affected by climate change in her work and in solutions against the crisis is important for Loïca as intersectionality is a crucial part of her politics. 

“The climate justice fight is an intersectional issue and you cannot look at it with a single lens. The crisis affects the LGBTQ+ community, people living in the Global South, vulnerable communities living in the Global North,” she explained. “The most holistic way to understand the climate crisis is to understand that as it happens, the most vulnerable will be the most affected.” 

The intersectionality of poverty, inequality, and the climate crisis is evident in Chile where in May 2023 the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, David Boyd, warned that the climate crisis has led to various human rights violations, “including the fundamental right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.” 

In addition to issues of poverty, loss, and damages as a result of the climate crisis, Chile has challenges with a civic space that is considered narrowed, making the work of activists like Valenzuela both challenging and important. 

It is for this reason that spotlighting marginalized voices is a fundamental part of her work.

Valenzuela believes activists and creatives like herself need to collaborate more — see the connection between one another’s struggles and work together to shape a better future. 

Watch Loïca’s full live studio performance here

Image: Anna-Maria Viksten

Image: Bothwell Mapuranga

JULY 2023 SPOTLIGHT

Ruth Mutana

“My hope is to amplify the muffled voices in the margins. People on the receiving end of climate injustices, sordid poverty, mental health illness, family breakdown, loss, and violence. As I write their stories, I hope they will be seen and heard. I hope to celebrate the unsung heroes in the periphery of society, for the resilience and autonomy they still exude, even when their reality seems bleak.” - Ruth Mutana 

Ruth Mutana is a creative writer living in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe, who uses creative writing to share stories of the disastrous impact of poverty and inequality on the most vulnerable communities. The 24-year-old writer and poet says that while she is able to work across different formats, she believes her strength lies in short-story writing and poetry. 

“I love how short stories give room for plenty of detail and context,” she says. “The emotional aspect of poetry is also priceless, it allows me to express a wide array of emotions in a few lines.” 

Mutana describes herself as being calm and reserved.

“'I’m usually somewhere in the crowd, hardly the center of attention. But I am extremely observant and sensitive to the cues I get from my surroundings. So it's not surprising that most of my writings are inspired by observations,” she explains. 

It is this great ability to quietly observe that allows Mutana to tackle complex issues with significant clarity.

Mutana began writing in high school as a way to deal with her own emotional challenges. She shares that her first poem was written out of the need to see something positive from herself after a difficult time. 

Writing has positively impacted her life, and as a result of her passion, she was invited to participate in the Caravan of Hope — which Mutana considers to have been a life-changing opportunity. 

“I traveled to climate disaster-affected areas in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi. Through seeing the loss and damage caused by Cyclone Idai with my own eyes and listening to the stories of affected communities, I felt profound commitment rise up [in] my chest,” she says. “I decided to share everything I saw and heard with the world. It is during this time that the activist in me was born. My work focuses on real issues we deal with everyday. These include the untold suffering due to climate change, mental health battles, financial crisis, faith, hope, and love.”

Mutana chooses to focus on these issues in her writing because they are real-life and important issues, and because she hopes “to create an authentic space where we embrace our struggles and work through them to attain the peace and growth we seek.”

Zimbabwe has numerous challenges, which include growing poverty and inequality, as well as a civic space that is considered repressed. This has affected media freedom and the ability of activists and civic space organizations to do their work. However, despite these challenges, Mutana says she is able to keep doing her work. 

“Honestly, I'm somehow cautious. I haven't felt driven to write on touchy subjects. Maybe it's a subconscious fear of getting into trouble for it. But my writing journey might have surprises in store, strong enough to push me out of my comfort zone one day. I [also] haven't felt restricted from expressing myself,” she says.

One of the challenges Mutana faces in her writing is financial constraints as a result of the editorial and publishing costs required to put her work out at pace to match her prolific output. 

“But all hope is not lost,” she says. “Managing my expectations and appreciating the small wins has been comforting. Publishing one book at a time is not bad at all.”

Young creatives and writers like Mutana are crucial for telling the stories of vulnerable communities such as the rural poor in Zimbabwe, whose experiences are often missing from discussions around the climate emergency and the need to end extreme poverty.

Read Mutana’s short story, Life in the Camp, here.

JUNE 2023

Oluwaseyi Moejoh

The African continent has strong warriors against the climate crisis, like Oluwaseyi Moejoh, a writer and the only African contributing editor for youth-led climate publication OH-Wake Magazine. 

Civic space is considered repressed in Moejoh’s home country of Nigeria, where media freedom in particular is under constant threat. Journalists face harassment and arrest while attempting to simply do their jobs. Still, with the media being a powerful tool for young activists, Moejoh worked with The Lonely Whale Foundation to launch the African chapter of OH-Wake in Nigeria this year — a move that empowers young activists to find their voice while also expanding freedom of expression in her home country. Moejoh believes in the importance of using her voice and shares stories from the youth perspective.

MAY 2023

Onalerona Seane

Onalerona Seane calls himself a creativist, which he describes as being a hybrid between a creative and a activist. He uses poetry to address societal issues in South Africa, focusing mostly on gender-based violence (GBV). The young poet believes that creative work has the power to ignite conversations. But his work is not without challenges. Onalerona says that activism comes with a lot of stress as people feel the need to speak out against you, to target you on social media.

When people like Onalerona are able to speak freely about issues in their communities, they can influence social and political decisions, which shows the importance of civic space.