Arts and Culture

Being blinded by labels stops social change. Art helps us see a better future

A shot by blind photographer Alejandra Rivera, who has worked with NGO Ojos que Sienten

A shot by blind photographer Alejandra Rivera, who has worked with NGO Ojos que Sienten. Image: Alejandra Rivera

Gina Badenoch
Founder, Capaxia UK
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Agenda in Focus: Social Entrepreneurs

• Cultural leaders and social entrepreneurs should collaborate to effect social change.

• Art and storytelling help people to write their own narratives and connect beyond labels.

• Making art means embracing uncomfortable states to produce self-transformation.

There is a need to make visible the invisible, and artists collaborating with social entrepreneurs can achieve this much faster in order to:

1. Amplify the voice of those who are not being seen and heard beyond their labels, which limits people’s reach, their potential and purpose in life.

2. Create a more inclusive narrative, showcasing diverse role models with whom a diverse group of people can relate. Stop “cookie-cutter” culture, where we are all forced to fit in a box, instead freeing people to express who they truly are, embracing their intersectionality.

3. Build a bridge through photography and storytelling, which connects and invites us to ask with curiosity and empathy, while listening with compassion and respect.

Have you read?

I want to start by sharing a short story with you that reminds me every day of why I do what I do as a cultural leader and social entrepreneur.

Walking along the beach with my friend Alejandra, we stopped and stood on the sandy beach, smelling the freshness of the sea. I closed my eyes, while she started describing to me how she perceived the sea.

Alejandra said: “As we feel the water coming between our feet and on our toes, it tickles all over the body, as if someone is kissing me all over. But when the wave flows back to the sea, I can feel its strength pulling me, so I stand firm and respect it.

“As we listen to it, I know the sea is immeasurable and I like that as it makes me feel there are no limits.

“Actually, the more I think of it, the sea for me is just like men: playful.”

Then she took her camera and pressed the shutter to take the photo of herself standing on the sandy beach.

At that moment I opened my eyes and realized that even though my friend Alejandra was born blind, she could perceive the essence of the sea and the surrounding much better than me or other sighted people would do so.

It was that moment that I knew the power photography and storytelling had to build bridges that can connect people beyond their labels. Getting to see, understand and respect people’s identity and potential. Embracing the beauty there is in imperfection, like the Japanese art of kintsugi, built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. This is the essence of resilience.

'Empathy', a work by blind photographer Marco A Martinez
'Empathy', a work by blind photographer Marco A Martinez Image: Ojos que Sienten

Thanks to sensory photography – the art of using all the senses to take photographs, which I started teaching 15 years ago – Alejandra has learned to “see” her imperfections as opportunities to become a strong, independent woman. Even though she only has a basic education and no university degree, she now has a job in a photography shop, which has dignified her life and her family’s, earning double the salary she used to earn.

She got the chance to change her narrative by amplifying her voice through photography, and connected with a more diverse group of people by working in Ojos que Sienten, my NGO: by leading dinners in the dark, she became a role model, reminding herself and society that her identity didn’t simply amount to the label of “blind woman”. What matters is her story: her potential to keep developing in an inclusive society that offers her the opportunities focused holistically on her as a person, rather than on her label.

The power cultural leaders and social entrepreneurs have working together to bring about change is considerable and can result in a more humane, creative, empathetic, compassionate, happy and healthy society.

As a photographer, storyteller and social entrepreneur, by shifting mindsets and changing the narrative, I aim to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable society, to achieve social and economic mobility.

Down the years, I have seen on a personal level how the creative process has enabled me to see things differently, allowing me to connect different perspectives to create a new way of doing things. This mean transforming:

Constant change, into opportunities to keep curious and creative enabling us to adapt, learn and keep moving, as life is not static.

Uncertainty, into a magic journey to the unknown, where our intuition will guide us throughout the suspense, keeping us focused to discover surprises or gifts that become skills or tools to keep innovating and creating.

Fear, into an opportunity to breath, to be present and reach out to others to avoid getting paralyzed, inviting you to collaborate with those who have what you are missing in order to achieve greater impact.

Frustration, into a space to observe, trust and let go, focusing in what one does have. It’s the opportunity to reconnect with oneself and give ourselves permission to not be in control or have the answers for everything, relinquishing our ego.

Vulnerability, into a hub for innovation, where having the courage to take risks with love and care towards ourselves and others enables powerful transformation.

My friend Alejandra is an example of putting this elements into place.

I believe as artists we have a huge opportunity and responsibility to work alongside social and tech entrepreneurs to catalyze change, because we have the power to use our curiosity and creativity to see life as a white canvas where we can produce our masterpiece, or as a camera ready to capture infinite images that invite us to tell a different story.

We all have a need to reconnect with our inner child and that artist within us, giving ourselves the opportunity to explore, imagine and dream with no limits, inviting people to create a human transformation through art.


What is a Cultural Leader?

As the American motivational speaker Wayne Dyer once said: “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” And this is the power artists and storytellers have to create social change.

This article is part of a Wellbeing Series, launched by the World Economic Forum and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, with the idea to support the human aspects of entrepreneurship to unleash the potential for social change.

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