‘Drawing’ Awareness with Art

This week we’re celebrating World Press Freedom Day. As a communications agency, this day is near and dear to us. While we respect a good NYT Op/Ed, we also like to enjoy a press freedom that is even more inspirational: Art. (Hence, this is our second blog post in a row on art as a freedom of expression.)

Richmond recently hosted its much loved Street Art Festival. Artists from all over the city gathered to celebrate the power of making public spaces beautiful. But in some countries this right is absent. Not only are you jailed for public art but for speaking out against the state in any manner whether through art or as a journalist. As you celebrate World Press Freedom Day, take a look at some men and women who challenge the system every day to tell the truth and create something beautiful. We have rounded up a list of our favorite artists who use their work to raise awareness of social issues and human rights violations.

"Hooligan Sparrow" by Nanfu Wang

This Chinese filmmaker is famous for her powerful documentary, Hooligan Sparrow. In the film, she follows activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) to southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Along the way, Wang became a target herself and eventually had to smuggle the movie footage out of China to get her film produced. The film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.


El Sexto is Cuba’s most famous street artist. He uses his work to highlight the abuse of the Cuban people under the Castro regime. His powerful work has gotten him arrested and imprisoned multiple times. In fact, the piece he did above — where he painted two pigs with the names of Raúl and Fidel Castro — got him put in jail for ten months, and the pigs weren’t even released!


This Russian Punk Rock Band uses their songs to highlight social injustice against women in Russia. Many of the band members have been assaulted or imprisoned because of their music. When asked about the band members imprisonment, Russian President Putin stated that the band had “undermined the moral foundations” of the nation and “got what they asked for”. Yikes!


When Brooklyn based street artist, Swoon, first started out, she didn’t think of herself as an activist. Unlike many other street artists, Swoon considers herself an artist first and an activist second. However, Swoon’s focus on portraying female issues through art, and raising awareness about economic issues has propelled her into street art stardom.


We couldn’t possibly create a list of activist artists without including Banksy. Quite possibly the most famous street artist in the world, Banksy’s work of social and political commentary has been featured on streets around the world. Check out all of his work here.