Download the Powerpoint: Diversity slide show
Some artists could be called “Activists” like Ai Wei Wei. Others engage with social justice in a much more subtle way. What is important for students is to be able to identify how their own work can engage with issues relating to Equality and Diversity.
I was always really excited about artists that looked to question whether we are working within an ethical society. These artists investigated the medium they were working with and also aimed to provoke a discussion about society. They used art as a communication platform to make statements about injustice and inequality.
Of course, the lecturer has to be careful when it comes to being political. There is a very real risk that the work itself can become “world issue” saturated and start to look generic and, because students are working with a particular issue, it can all tend to look the same. Essentially, the students’ own personal response and individuality can become lost in the process.
However, making a statement about inequality is a highly motivational tool. It can make students research more deeply into a topic by investigating wider source material than just art. I have seen so many sketchbooks that are almost wholly based on research into artists, which may sometimes suggest a low level of analysis and ability to make connections to wider culture. By not making broad connections in this way an art student may be limiting their audience, as wider society may not have the same vocabulary and awareness of the arts.
Yet, it was amazing to see how quickly a student was able to make wider connections to information on important and relevant non-art, just by considering their work from an E & D perspective. It is the kind of stretch they need, one that is a challenge, but that they understand as important because of the impact on society.
Manifestos have been important parts of art movements such as Surrealism, Dada, Futurism and even more recently in smaller art groups. When art started to draw on Marxism and Psychoanalysis it was clear that it could have a powerful impact on society.
Manifestos in art groups were used to direct intentions toward a common goal. One of the issues with them is that they can designate a single point of view, which is not necessarily inclusive. However, Manifestos can also been seen as mission statements that pledge to undertake a minimum level of commitment to ethics.
The Equality and Diversity Manifesto is just such a pledge. It outlines and begins to demonstrate, through words and images, what the student is willing to do to support the initiative. Through the process, students begin to understand that small contributions like this actually have a much larger impact on society over time.
The fine print
The project could be about Gender discrimination and seek to make comments about how women are discriminated against in popular culture. This kind of approach suits specialisms like Fine Art. It is easy to create a project title that covers this using paint or drawing.
However, when it comes to a specialism like architecture it appears more complex. In this instance, students can be active by not trying to change attitudes through vocal activism, but rather by creating something functional that will have equal impact. For example, if students were to design a centre for disability support or a place of worship then it becomes much easier.
Then there are topics that students find it much more difficult to relate to E & D. One of my students is working on the topic of “Transmission”. I can see how that could be related and explored form an E & D theme. However, they found it really difficult to make that kind of connection.
Just because the students want to be inclusive, doesn’t mean they can’t engage with any subject. Rather, they could analyse their development work and see if they had been researching and investigating in an inclusive way. Some of the ways this could be done would be by:
- Researching an equal amount of female and male artists and designers.
- Ensure that you are looking at the issue from perspectives of different cultures.
- Making work that is accessible to anyone with a disability.
- Investigating work by artists and designers that have disabilities.
- Sourcing material from Fair Trade associations.
Included with this article are a lesson plan and a Slideshow that lecturers can use and also feel free to transform to suit their needs. The lesson plan requires the slideshow to function, but also helps indicate how much time to spend on which activity.
The lesson starts with students putting the titles of their projects on to sheets of paper and sticking them to the wall. This is to ensure that everyone else in the class can see and can support them more throughout the lesson. Then the Slideshow is gone through, which has some points of discussion as opposed to just being a one-directional lecture and tries to involve the students.
The topic starts by helping students to become aware of what diversity is by looking at the history of Britain. It then looks at points in modern history where atrocities have occurred to people. Within this frame, it asks students to define the main areas of discrimination such as racism or homophobia. Depending on class size, this would be good to do in small groups where students can then learn from each other and feed back to the class.
After this feedback, there is a group discussion about their own projects and how they could make a pledge to avoid marginalising or discriminating in their work, but more importantly, how they could embrace different groups within society that they normally don’t make a positive move towards considering.
They use this information to design a small poster that includes information and examples of their pledge towards Equality and Diversity. They should include their name and title of project along with some sentences that describe what they are going to do differently. Students should also include visual examples of new research they will explore, along with names and artworks on the board.
The design can be done traditionally, through collage or mixed media, but is probably faster to create digitally through image manipulation. This will depend on resources available. During this design period, students will need encouragement and some direction in order to make sure they are really covering new ground and stretching their awareness. This could be done through directed questioning techniques.
The exercise can easily be extended further and also be framed in a practical scenario through discussions of how to present these manifestos. At the end of the lesson the students really wanted to share their new focus on E & D and felt that others should be made aware. They decided as a group to present this on a large screen in the foyer of the building for arriving students. Other ideas include large scale prints, projection or in a visitor book alongside their final shows.
Overall, what was most interesting was the sea change from being very private and unsure about their projects that they had devised at the start of the year. The focus on E & D had given them a challenge to engage with and commitment towards making a change within society.
What kind of project would this suit?
There is no reason that any level of student couldn’t engage with this. Lower levels of students may need more guidance and could potentially write a group manifesto, rather than an individual one. More prescriptive projects with tasks written by the lecturer could include a task to write the manifesto. This would support research and analysis elements. However, the manifesto is particularly suited to independent projects where students can focus on personal directions.
Please note the resources included were adapted from materials available from the Equality and Human Rights Commission: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com