The Art of Resistance

portrait of Carlton Mackey seated looking at camera

FOR ME, THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST is to translate the longings of the hearts of the people. This is my mandate. This is the weight of what this moment in time—this moment of protest and unrest—means to me and my function as an artist. 

People lean on artists to represent them and to speak on their behalf in ways they may feel unable to. We have a unique responsibility to proclaim the expressed desires of the communities we are part of and to channel their righteous rage into liberating expression.  This is the wellspring from which our art comes. But I believe the true transformative power of art comes in not only reflecting back to the community a view of itself in its moment of crisis, but offering it a vision of what it has the power to be—what it is worthy of becoming on the other side of the struggle.

One of the beautiful things I've seen happening and that I want to contribute to is showing a vision of our strength, of our power, of our resilience, of our beauty as Black people—as a reminder that what others say we are is not the final word.

Using art in all of its forms can be a revolutionary act. It is radical acts of self-care and radical acts of love by Black people, among Black people, and on Black people, that will counter the epic amount of violence, misrepresentation, and oppression that is beginning to be acknowledged now, but which we have been experiencing for hundreds of years. 

Art is no more important than, but no less important than the radical acts of resistance that we're seeing in the streets coupled with the radical calls for change.

This is a moment for all of us to seize. However, whatever it looks like—whether it is a fundamental restructuring of the way you live life, choosing to no longer be complicit in relationships with partners who are racists, speaking up in the organizations that you have an influence within—it’s time to move past the excuse that it’s not quite the time. This is the time. 

It is the time to dismantle, and it is the time to build. This is our collective charge. This is the movement we are part of.  These are the goals we will achieve, and this is the promise we will keep to make this movement sustainable beyond this moment.


Director of the Emory Ethics & the Arts Program

Identifying first and foremost as an artist, Mackey also teaches, empowers, and inspires future generations of artists and scholars at Emory to use their talents for the social good—to help catalyze change, start dialogues, and challenge preconceived notions.

Portrait of Carlton Mackey
Portrait of Carlton Mackey
Portrait of Carlton Mackey holding a sunflower


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