You’d be forgiven for thinking that an organization called Women Forward International (WFI) was concerned with women alone. However, as its President and Executive Director, Kent Davis-Packard explains in her letter of address for the organization’s 2021 The Vanguard event, this is not the case.
“The study of sexism opens the door to the understanding of all power relationships – you end one ism, you end all of them,” Davis-Packard said. “They are interrelated. Gender equality has been proven a better indicator of a state’s peacefulness than other factors like democracy, religion, or GDP. WFI, despite its name – is not about women – it is about Human Unity.”
An important point about human unity is its dependence on shared meaning, connection, and love. With this understanding, it starts to become clear that one of the most powerfully disarming and affecting ways we can bridge divides and heal collective wounding is through the Arts.
As women from all over the world heeded the call to gather online as part of The Vanguard, we were reminded that “the bridging of mind and heart is no longer an anomaly, but a norm and a new humanity is no longer a dream but an awakening reality.” One of the reasons for this is the daring work of scholars across the globe who are engaging the transformative power of Art to bring about human unity.
Keynote speaker Sheikha Al Mayassa Bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, Chairperson of Qatar Museums and Doha Film Institute, shared:
“It’s not enough to build bridges, we need to break the walls of ignorance between men and women, rich and poor, with one essential ingredient: love. We need to change our collective approach to evaluating the role of Art and artists in our world. People turned to Art during the pandemic for solace, support, and healing. Face masks became canvases for self-expression, and it’s important to note the role digital art, digital spaces, and outdoor installations played. Let’s appreciate the universal hunger for Art and the role art plays in society.”
Art As An Inclusive Communication Platform
The pandemic has made us more aware of our common humanity and our need to face our challenges together. The Arts offer us a means of communication that can break down barriers and change how we think of each other. Art enables countries to share views, experiences, and culture in a peaceful and tolerant space.
Art is also vital to critical thinking. Consider how we have one of two choices when faced with an Art piece that makes us uncomfortable or places us face-to-face with topics we may otherwise avoid. We can walk away or allow ourselves to lean into the experience, consider a viewpoint different from ours, and perhaps, evolve.
Imagine an anti-Iraq, alt-right American feeling resonant with and deeply moved by a piece of literature. On researching the author, this reader discovers that she’s an Iraq-born feminist. What then? The reader must either deny himself his heartfelt experience and turn away from this inner ping of connection, or contemplate and integrate this apparent shared human experience with someone he considers different, other, or perhaps even wrong.
It’s clear that through Art, our lives are examined, reassessed, and evolved. “Our preconceptions of ourselves and others are destabilized, refashioned, and enlarged.” We cannot help but be improved through conscious Art if we’re open to engaging it.
By Dunya Mikhail
He plays a train.
She plays a whistle.
They move away.
He plays a rope.
She plays a tree.
He plays a dream.
She plays a feather.
He plays a general.
She plays people.
They declare war.
Your Role In Creating Human Unity
It’s time we recognize Art as a force that can positively transcend outmoded systems and economic structures. As the WFI Arts Counsel states:
“Art alone can challenge political and social narratives, pushing the boundaries of what can be seen, though, and done in the realm of international relations. Art imagines the unimaginable and gives voice to the voiceless. In doing so, it becomes a form of moral consciousness. It’s an expression of human hope that disrupts and transcends rhetoric and redefines what is politically visible, thinkable, and possible. Reimagining our world in these kinds of ways is the very essence of international relations.
As artists, curators, or the audience, the critical question to ask ourselves is how do we leverage art’s profound impact on human relations? The world’s inequities of healthcare, education, generational poverty, and entrenched prejudices need to be represented and seen by those who have the choice to look away. All the while, others are rising to paint a new picture of the more equitable world “our heart’s know is possible.”
There is a new normal available, and Art can show us how to embrace it.
A Call To Action
Women Forward International recognizes that talent exists across the globe in all walks of life, but the opportunity to showcase that talent is not always easily achieved. To that end, WFI is committed to identifying and working with those individuals, universities, and client partners who are dedicated to providing a platform for changemakers whose voices need to be amplified regardless of their location, economic status, academic background, or cultural context.
Help build the bridge and break down the walls by engaging with and sharing the work of these featured international artists:
Replay The Vanguard
Women Forward International
Written by Roxana Bouwer
Top image provided by Women Forward International
Second image by Tim Marshall on Unsplash