Reflection on SXSW: An Alumni Perspective by Nora Rahimian

Art and culture create an emotional response in people, which then opens up the space to change how people think and act around different social justice issues.  So often, the way we think about activism is focused on the negative, and definitely, naming the problems and challenges is important and necessary. But it’s not sustainable and I’m not sure it’s always effective.

On our SXSW panel, and in my work, we wanted to talk about ways that positive narratives can create transformational shifts.  We start with the post-revolution question: After we’ve destroyed all the systems of oppression, what do we do then? What do we replace them with? What kind of world do we want to create?  And there’s a million reasons why this is important. I want to shift the conversation so it centers us instead of centering whiteness or sexism or whatever oppression we’re fighting. I want to highlight that every day, even in small ways, we are participating in resistance.  That the exertion of our joy, our cultures, our communities in spaces that are actively and politically trying to destroy us are ways we push back against power.  So, whether its throwing parties as a challenge to gentrification or its giving a platform to artists who challenge homogenous representations of a given identity, those acts are just as much “activism” as anything else.

It was really important to me that that space on the panel were held by people of color/woman*/queer because that kind of representation is (still) rare at SXSW.  I put a call out to my networks and was really intentional about how we filled that space. In the end, I think we had one of the most diverse panels I’ve seen in four years of SXSW.  And I think what really made our panel different was that none of us were afraid to be emotional about what we were talking about. It wasn’t just people talking about theories and ideas, but each of us really were practicing and implementing and being impacted by the things we were talking about. It was genuine and authentic and personal. The panel allowed people to connect with us and what we were saying, even when the conversation got uncomfortable for some people.  And in that sense, the panel was able to be a kind of model at that moment for the things we were talking about. 

Nora Rahimian is Co-Founder and Lead Strategist of #CultureFix, a global collaborative network of artivists, cultural producers, and changemakers who are using arts & culture to effect social change in their communities.