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Cultures and Arts for Building People’s Power


Cultures and Arts for Building People’s Power.

By Cadmus Atake-Enade
Project lead, Community and Culture Health of Mother Earth Foundation(HOMEF)

Culture and Arts are two wonderful ways of preserving or strengthening a community’s sense of place, forging a personal identity, and showing creativity boast multiple opportunities for learning, entertainment, leisure, personal growth, and improved communication with others, as well as developing good morals.

Culture is the characteristics, and knowledge of a particular group of people and their way of living. This encompasses food, dress, dance, and tradition. Culture is an inherited idea that distinguishes one group of people from another. while on the other hand Art – is an expression or celebration of that way of life, in music, performance, and visual forms. Art Influences Culture, and Culture Influences Art. When we talk about retooling Arts as a cultural tool for people’s power, we are looking at the aspects of arts and culture as tools to build resilience and resistance to push for people’s power.

Art can be defined as a course of study- that is primarily concerned with human creativity and social life, such as languages, literature, and history. Further, it can be defined in terms of a renaissance as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. “The art of the Renaissance”.

However, with these definitions, we must note that arts come in various forms and categories which are traditional (cultural) categories which include literature (including poetry, drama, storytelling, folktales, etc), visual arts which include painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.), the graphic arts – painting, drawing, design, and other forms expressed on flat surfaces), the plastic arts (sculpture, modeling), the decorative arts (enamel work, furniture design, mosaic, etc.), the performing arts (theatre, dance, music), music (as composition), and architecture (often including interior design). So far in the context of this school, we will be looking at traditional/cultural arts as a means of building people’s power.

Traditional Art is a part of the culture of a group of people, skills, and knowledge that are passed down through generations from master craftsmen to apprentices. This is produced with real physical media, as opposed to digital art. This form of art helps to develop the mind and body, refine feelings, and thoughts, and reflect and represent our customs and values as a society. Cultural arts help to explain the world in which we live through an exploration of creativity. It also serves as a means of building resistance and people’s power. It can be achieved using the following tools – storytelling, poetry, Music, dance, drama, and creative arts like paintings and graffiti.

Arts and Cultural tools for building Peoples power
Every culture has its ways of passing its norms and morals to the next generation either as a way of entertainment and aesthetics or as a means of resistance to external influences and such tools are;

1. Storytelling – as Africans, we transfer our cultures and beliefs through stories from one generation to another and this is a very strong tool in building resistance over the years. Beliefs, cultures, and traditions are transferred via storytelling. In organizing people’s power, we use storytelling to articulate our shared values. Sharing our stories as a people helps to inspire and motivate others to join our course. It motivates people to act in other to avoid a re-occurrence of such incidents. Storytelling has the goal of creating empathy between the listener and the character so that the listener can think about his challenges and make choices on what next to do.

Storytelling is a very strong cultural tool to build people’s power however we must document and tell our own stories and narratives about the challenges that we go through in our various communities. Stories usually come in three parts – the self-story- personal experiences- a self-value that makes you who you are, a story of us- collective stories/shared values by those affected, and the Story of Now- communicates an urgent challenge to those values that demand urgent action.

Many of us did not meet Ken Saro Wiwa or engaged in his struggles for the emancipation of the Ogoni people but we heard his stories and today we are part of that struggle for environmental justice in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region. So, we must share our narratives and stories to build resilience and people power.

2. Poetry
Poetry has been alive and kicking since its birth over 5,000 years ago. It is one of the oldest cultural forms of humankind. It is a universal expression of culture and identity, transcending age, gender, and race [Poetry, is one of the oldest cultural forms; By definition -Poetry is a rhythmical form of words that express an imaginative-emotional-intellectual experience of the writer in such a way that it creates a similar experience in the mind of his reader or listener. Poetry is the spontaneous outflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origins from emotion recollected in tranquillity (William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 1802).

Going further we can say that – good poetry is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. Good poetry helps to change the shape of the universe and helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him. And the main goal of poetry is to paint words in a way that inspires or motivates others to act.

3. Music is another tool for building people’s power, it brings people together, conveys encoded messages, and serves as a tool for worship as well as for resistance/war- that is why we have war chants /songs preparing people for battles/warfare. What is music? By definition – music is an intentionally organized art form whose medium is sound and silence, with core elements of pitch (melody and harmony), rhythm (meter, tempo, and articulation), dynamics, and the qualities of timbre and texture. This is usually used to convey messages/ worship or resistance to oppression. Dance, paintings, and graffiti are all also part of cultural art tools used for resistance and for building people’s power across the world. However, we must note that the stories, poetry, and music composed must be seen from the perspectives of the struggles and not to be seen from the perspectives of the oppressors.

Building People Power using arts and culture

When we talk about power, we must recognize that there are various types of power and they are.
Power over
Power over is how power is most understood. This type of power is built on force, coercion, domination, and control and is motivated largely by fear. This form of power is built on a belief that power is a finite resource that can be held by individuals, and that some people have power and some people do not.
Power with
Power is shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment, and collaborative decision-making. Power with is linked to “social power, the influence we wield among equals”. Power can help build bridges within groups (e.g., families, organizations, social change movements) or across differences (e.g., gender, culture, class). Rather than domination and control, power leads to collective action and the ability to act together.

Power to
Power refers to the “productive or generative potential of power and the new possibilities or actions that can be created without using relationships of domination” It is built on the “unique potential of every person to shape his or her life and world” It is the power to make a difference, to create something new, or to achieve goals.

Power Within
Power within is related to a person’s “sense of self-worth and self-knowledge; it includes an ability to recognize individual differences while respecting others” Power within involves people having a sense of their capacity and self-worth. The power within allows people to recognize their “power to” and “power with”, and believe they can make a difference [ 4 types of power: What are power over; power with; power to, and power within?

Developing people’s power (Community Power Building) This kind of power falls between Power with and Power to. It can be very strategic and tasking however it is a very vital part of making the voices of the people heard in the arena of policymakers and the government when implementing and making climate and environmental laws that are centred on the people and their communities.

We must note that developing Peoples Power is about the development, implementation, and protection of policies, practices, and systems changes to support a culture of all-round wellness (socially, economically, and environmentally) —a culture in which all people have equal opportunities to make healthy choices, whatever no matter the circumstances around them.

Conclusively we must look at the importance of culture and arts when developing people’s power, in every community, there is always the existence of a day of Community engagements and interactions, therefore we must utilize these spaces to tell and share compelling stories and compose inspirational songs and poetry that motivate and inspire people to take positive actions in the protection and conservation of their cultural beliefs and environment.

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