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Art + Activism: Will Watson

Another artist and activist is Will Watson - a painter based in Baltimore. Will’s work urge’s social change within its subject matter. The depictions of Black society and its many factions can deeply resonate with audiences because they are so relevant to what Will calls “right now in history.” Many of his pieces depict police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, and everyday occurrences within Black life that may unfortunately result in interactions with police.

Being able to beautifully depict such horrific topics is a skill that he has mastered. And being able to draw people into those images and force them to examine the work and in-turn their own life in relations to the pieces can bring about social change by itself. Much like his work, Will encourages other artists and creatives to use their platforms and talents for change. He wants artists to find their purpose in this movement... To find their voice and “say that sh*t loud, and louder each time!”

1. How do you use art as activism?

I use activism in my own work as an urge for social change.Being a black artist, making art about black people, black life, black stories, or even black ideas is a form of activism and protest itself.

The work I create sometimes toils with the morality of the white gaze. The cultural situations I depict cause others to shift and question their preconceptions of the narrative. The way I chose to be an activist, in these works, are by acknowledging negative aspects or the things that need to be changed, whether that is by changing the narrative and/or who is represented in the artwork. Some things that may be seen as dark, evil, eerie or scary, will more often than not be paired with something colorful, joyous, mundane or routine. Based on people's personal connections to the imagery and symbols, one chooses to decide how their heart interprets the image. I often use text or sometimes the title of a piece, just as the role chants, rhymes, mantras, songs from our cultural past, have been used as a way to communicate specific messages to people.

2. Why is it important for you to use art as activism?

The work I am making is based on my experience of ‘right now' in history. As an artist, having the ability to creatively document that desire for change in my own way, is an immensely powerful thing.

Especially right now, with how social media can connect humans instantly, and interact visually. Using art as activism gives us a way to keep and contribute constructively to, as well as maintain control of our own narratives, and preserve our history, and culture.

3. How would you encourage or suggest other creatives use their

art/artistic talents for activism?

I believe as artists, and humans we have to understand our roles in activism. If an artist chooses to use their creative talents and platforms for activism, it is your duty, role, and responsibility to stay as informed with the truth as possible, to make sure your influence isn't dominated by emotional responses.

I don't believe we've seen the last of any of these unfortunate things activists have been fighting for. So develop a tough skin for these internet trolls and say your truths, create the thing, have fun, make it as big or as small as you need to... But say that sh*t loud, and louder each time!

4. What are some ways to support you and/or a cause that you are

passionate about?

I can't really ask one to support ANY cause I'm passionate about. I'm passionate about the Black Live Matter movement, globally and locally. I'm passionate about surviving two global pandemics, being a Black Man in America and Covid-19. I'm passionate about policy reform, and changes, abolishment of the police and all this racial injustice and brutality, homeless, flawed education systems, and wages for teachers, and other unfair and unjust practices and policies against all human beings, especially Black people.

So for me it's important that people simply find it in their own heart how to support whatever it is they are passionate about. It's important to support whatever with good faith and intentions. Whether that's monetary, or with time, or resources, it's important to always give support from a true and honest place. Its lasting impact usually is a reflection of that.

Will's work is some of the best work that vividly depicts what is going on right now. Be sure to follow him on Instagram: @will_theartist

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