What Does It Mean to 'Manifest' Justice?
Apr 28, 2015
What does it mean to 'manifest' justice?
To manifest means to 'display or show a quality or feeling by one's acts'; 'to demonstrate something clear or obvious to the eye or mind'. In essence, to manifest means to bring into being something that is visualized, understood, felt, but not yet existing.
The process of making real that which is conceptualized is the very work of the artist, regardless of what medium she uses. The act of creative expression has the power to transport the viewer to worlds and realities that we might not experience or be receptive to otherwise. This is why, across the world and throughout history, the powerful have attempted to control creative expression: banning books, destroying works, and silencing voices with the power to move hearts when a power structure can only control bodies.
Artist Ai Weiwei has made a career of shining a spotlight on oppressive state power and the responsibilities we all bear as members of a community to protect expression. In April, he partnered with Amnesty International and others on @Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz. The interactive exhibit invited visitors to write postcards with messages of hope and support to prisoners of conscience around the world. Breaking the isolation, the artist says, is critically important to the people who are being unjustly detained for their beliefs.
Weiwei knows the experience of isolation well, which is why American artist Shepard Fairey employed the power of art on Weiwei's behalf last year. Fairey released a limited edition portrait of the artist, cast in deep orange and red, with a prominent gash on his head as a result of a 2010 encounter with Chinese police--one that left him needing brain surgery. The prints raised money for Friends of Ai Weiwei, an organization raising awareness of Weiwei's ongoing political struggle with the Chinese government and fighting for the release of the artist's passport so he may travel freely.
Reclusive British street artist Banksy reworked a celebrated image of his in honor of the third anniversary of the ongoing conflict in Syria. The image of a girl with a red balloon was chosen, according to a statement from the artist, because of the "15 children whose detention for writing pro-democracy graffiti triggered the first protests against the Assad regime." The work was projected onto various international landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower and Nelson's Column, on March 13, 2014, and promoted #withsyria, a campaign to rally support for victims of the conflict.
When over 100 artists set out to "manifest justice" this month in Los Angeles, it is precisely because justice, as we see and understand it, does not exist yet--despite the presence of something we call a 'justice system'. Manifest:Justice features works that illuminate our resilience and elevate what goes unspoken in our current conversation about race, implicit bias, and lack of access to comprehensive healthcare in our country, specifically in low income areas. To truly 'manifest justice', we must demand more empathy, more accountability, more economic opportunity, more compassion, more power, and more dignity for all. We must see images of us taking back our streets, our schools, our communities and our hope. Together, we can bring this vision into reality.