social change | April 18, 2013

Naomi Natale: Embrace A Shared Humanity—Embrace Helping Others

When social change speaker Naomi Natale asked a refugee from the Congo if her One Million Bones project mattered, the reply she got was one she says she did not expect. In her keynote at Chicago Ideas Week, Natale explained what her social arts practice hopes to accomplish, why she creates installations using handmade bones, and why she wants to one day have one million bones made. In the Sudan, The Congo, and Burma (Myanmar), mass genocides and devastating violence plague those who reside there. Her project hopes to bring awareness to these atrocities and to bring people together to make a positive impact for the future of these nations. Natale's work has indeed made a difference, as evident by the responses her work has gotten from victims in these nations and from those unaware of the crises happening overseas. The Congolese refugee told her that making and displaying these bones brought the skeletons of the victims of violent crimes out of the closets. Everyone can now see a symbol that represents the lives lost and the violence that must be eradicated, he told her.

Natale believes that using these collaborative art installations is a unique and impactful way of connecting different people to these issues. "Combining art and education," she says, "allows people to learn more without turning away paralyzed from information they feel both disconnected from and overwhelmed by." While the bones are indeed meant to represent the grave impact these crises have on human beings, they are also a symbol of a deeper connection between people—that underneath, we are all similar and we possess a shared humanity.

She does admit, however, that working at the intersection of art and activism does carry its challenges. While both fields aim to elicit a deep, visceral connection and reaction in the participant, neither field fully embraces the other. We need both artist, and activist, she says, in order to inspire and stir something in the hearts of the people across the world. "We need to dream that another reality is possible," she says, "which is what we call hope." While she doesn't think that art is necessarily the main or only solution to complex social problems, combining art with education spurs activism—and can inspire people to change the world.

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