Sitting in the private Creative Artists Agency theatre located along the Avenue of the Stars in Los Angeles, I watched the documentary Changing the World, One Wall at a Time created by Off Centre Productions and the organization Not A Crime – Street Art For Education Equality. The movie addresses the injustice of young people in Iran and around the world being barred from higher education because of their race or religious preferences.
It all started with the injustice toward the Baha’i people in Iran in 1979. The Iranian government has been persecuting Baha’i people, the largest religious minority, since the Islamic Revolution. Their businesses have been torched, and thousands of people have been harassed, jailed or killed. Young Baha’i people in Iran are banned from studying in Iranian universities, and teachers of the same faith are forbidden to teach.
When the #NotACrime campaign started, some of the world’s most prominent street artists and muralists were invited to tell human rights stories through their art. “Education is Not a Crime,” is now the world’s largest global street art and human rights campaign. It raises awareness about education apartheid while sending messages of love and hope to those affected.
When a few artists painted on the walls of buildings in one of the most iconic neighborhoods in all of America–Harlem–the people in the community could relate to the theme. Many have ancestors from Africa who were transported to America to work as slaves. They were forbidden to read and write. Many were tortured and killed if they tried.
One of the street artists featured in the movie is Elle. In the movie she shared how “Street art is amazing, because it is a form for dialogue….it creates a story. Anyone who walks by gets to interact with that.” Present at the screening, she spoke with the audience. “I enjoy discussing the campaign with the people living in the communities and spreading the message. Knowledge is power. Painting a mural engages people to talk about injustice.”
The campaign moved to other boroughs in New York City and New Jersey and then went global. Street artists were hired to bring their spray paint cans to walls in Cape Town, South Africa. This really hit home for the people in this country who have been denied an education, because of their race.
Soon #NotACrime was identifying discrimination around the world and hired artists in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sydney, Australia, London, Delhi, Atlanta, GA and now Los Angeles to paint their messages. Positive art is crucial for community development offering a positive message: Education Is Not a Crime. Nobel Peace Prize laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr Shirin Ebadi fully embrace this campaign.
Another artist in the movie, Dave the Chimp, believes “Art gives a stronger message than words.” His mural of beans holding up signs saying “All beans are equal” and “Plant a seed” on a public wall in London communicates thoughts and a philosophy that young people can relate to more than they would reading an article in a newspaper.
#NotACrime mixes street art with social interaction and social media to fight the injustice in Iran. Education should never be denied. Knowledge is a human right.
To learn more about this campaign http://www.notacrime.me/