Sculpture and Social Justice

Sculpture and Social Justice

Art has long played an essential role in social movements. From posters and films, to photography, music videos and graffiti art – various artistic mediums have provided support for many social justice initiatives over time.

Rosie the Riveter posters have become icons of feminist activism, while the AIDS Memorial Quilt serves as an enduring tribute to those lost to this disease. Today, similar movements are occurring locally with artists using their creativity to effect change.


Symbolism in sculpture shows an artist’s perspective on life at any particular time and the values they hold dear at that point in time. Additionally, symbolism conveys excitement for life; an iconic example would be marble statue of Pieta depicting Mother Mary holding the dead body of her son Jesus representing maternal love and grief. Each work of art tells its own unique tale revealing our collective spiritual beliefs and practices as humans.

Sculpture often holds symbolic meaning for social justice and activism, raising critical consciousness, building community and encouraging people to take steps toward social change. This form of artwork is known as social justice art and covers a broad range of visual and performing arts forms. Artists have historically utilized their craft to shape culture, cultivate imagination and harness individual and collective power for transformational social change.

Medieval churches typically adorned their tympanums–the space above doorway arches–with religious and civic symbols that express some of mankind’s deepest spiritual insights and beliefs, such as Hindu iconography depicting Shiva dancing (Household god Shiva) to represent complex cosmic ideas; other sculptures contain more enigmatic images symbolizing moral, social, or religious ideas; great Renaissance period sculptors often created sculptures which reflected classical Greek and Roman ideals of sculpture art.

In literature, Symbolist movement emerged during Europe’s upheaval during the 1880s. Many Symbolist writers found themselves dissatisfied with rationalism, naturalism and materialism that prevailed at that time; many wanted their art to go beyond being realistic while being more emotive or suggestive in its nature.

Symbolist artists were fascinated with mysticism and transcendence, most notably Auguste Rodin and Constantin Brancusi who both used sculpture with smooth forms that intertwine to represent spirituality or mysticism – classic examples include Rodin’s “Gate of Hell”, which stands as one of his iconic works from this era, as well as “The Kiss”, an intricate symbolism in its form; similarly Brancusi created pure abstract works which exude spirituality in their form.

Public Art

Sculpture can be an indispensable resource in promoting social justice; it can promote specific causes while also empowering individuals. By capturing the spirit and essence of an issue or place, sculpture can convey its message directly to a larger audience. From memorials to historical narratives re-envisioned through art, public art plays an integral part in upholding values of social justice in our society.

Public art has existed across cultures and societies for millennia. From legally-commissioned statues of community leaders in town squares to graffiti-style murals on storefront windows, public artworks serve a multitude of functions in society. While traditional forms such as museums and galleries often only engage audiences within its original environment, public art often engages audiences outside its surroundings as well as convey messages about issues that don’t always get discussed at dinner parties or other social gatherings.

Social justice art is a form of public art that focuses on issues of inequality, injustice and human rights. This type of public art may take the form of paintings, drawings, films, dance performances, theater productions and musical compositions – or murals, statues sculpture parks and fountains.

As the Black Arts Movement became more and more prominent alongside the Civil Rights movement, artists used their talents to support black communities through art. Influential members included Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin and Gil Scott-Heron who contributed significantly to this movement; their collective influence continues today through social justice art in America.

Today, many individuals are turning to public art as a form of activism. This type of art usually addresses issues like racial injustice, gender equality and human rights; its main goal being to connect with the community and spark action. Sculpture provides an excellent medium for this form of activism since it is accessible by all.

Social Justice art can be created by artists of various types and can be found anywhere – from street artists’ murals to memorials commemorating those killed by police officers. Projects may range from street artist’s murals to memorials that honor victims killed by officers; recent examples can be seen throughout New Brunswick, Highland Park and Metuchen. Also this year is the fifth annual Windows of Understanding public art program which honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream for understanding among local citizens.

Community Art

Community art (also referred to as socially engaged arts or participatory arts) involves collaborations between artists and members of a local community. Community art can help promote social justice while raising awareness about certain issues affecting an area or neighborhood. Community art takes the form of murals, plays, sculptures and music and is also often employed as street art to effect change for positive social transformation.

Laura Jaffe of Washington D.C. uses wheat paste street art to champion social justice causes such as environmental concerns, voting rights and racial profiling. These pieces encourage residents to become more engaged with civic affairs while simultaneously building a sense of community among participants so they can work together towards positive change in the area.

Assemble is another British group creating community art projects. Their architects, designers, and artists collaborate closely with those living and inhabiting them to design projects as livable and sustainable as possible; additionally they work closely with organizations on cultural festivals and other civic engagement events to further increase engagement within communities.

Once used for public art projects such as those conducted by the nineteenth-century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, community art really gained momentum during the 1960s as an instrument to empower communities through art. Early initiatives included placing visual artists, actors, and musicians within communities in order to produce murals, plays, or compositions as public projects.

Recently, there has been an initiative to broaden the reach of community arts. Many social change organizations have collaborated with artists on community arts projects; this collaboration has resulted in successful partnerships for natural resource conservation, economic development and intercultural understanding.

Many CUNY faculty engage in public-facing work, collaborating with communities on campuses and throughout New York. Unfortunately, this type of activity often goes undersupported or unacknowleged; SPQ supports several seminars that introduce students to contemporary theory and practice in this area – often co-taught between experienced QC Art Department faculty with professors from adjacent disciplines like urban studies or The Graduate Center.


“Activism” encompasses any activity designed to bring about social change and is distinct from traditional politics – which generally refers to election campaigning, voting and lobbying politicians – in that activism often serves as a form of resistance against oppressive policies or an oppressive political system; or can seek to achieve progressive social goals like slavery abolition and wars.

Activism is often undertaken by individuals without significant power; however, those in positions of authority may also qualify as activists if they use their position to achieve uncommon or unconventional goals – for instance a president or court could use new legal interpretation to bring about policy change.

Some activists work for specific groups, like labor unions or religious institutions; such activists are known as organizers. Others – environmental activists or antiwar protesters for example – act on an individual level distributing leaflets or hosting one-person vigils; this form of activism is known as grassroots activism.

An activist’s goal is to get attention for their cause. They do so through organizing events such as rallies, marches and confrontations in order to garner public and media interest in what they stand for; additionally they hope to generate a feedback loop where initial action and attention lead to greater participation and further interest.

To be effective, activists need to identify the causes of injustice and devise plans to change them. Furthermore, they should consider their own privileges and biases, while acknowledging the significance of addressing a range of issues, including economic inequality and racism in their efforts.

To be effective, activism requires many resources – similar to how flowers or fruits require nutrients, roots, stems and pollinators for survival. Financial contributions alone will not make activism successful; activists require family, teachers and friends who support them as well.

Idealistically, modern political systems would respond to all societal needs equally and provide equal opportunity for all individuals; until that day comes, activism remains essential in pursuit of justice.