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Can Artists Help Us Find 21st Century Solutions to 21st Century Problems?

The Rockefeller Foundation shares complete series of artistic work from the Bellagio Creative Arts Fellows program.


Contemporary art reflects the world in which it is made—the identities and politics, dreams, and aspirations of contemporary societies. Through artistic inquiry and practice, artists have an opportunity to call out the discrete or communal political issues and societal challenges they observe, often positioning themselves as key actors in discourses of social change. Frequently, socially-engaged artistic practices become forms of activism. Through their work artists can resist dominant paradigms, give voice to the voiceless, shine a light on contemporary challenges, change mindsets and create alternative narratives that help us imagine new worlds.

The Bellagio Center has a long history of supporting artists whose practices reflect an activist mindset and a strong interest in using an artistic modality to serve processes of social change. For the past several decades, the Center has offered a broad range of writers, photographers, visual and performance artists, filmmakers and composers the space and time to push the envelope of their practices and benefit from the cross-disciplinary and international community the Bellagio Residency Program brings together.

From 2009-2015, to increase capacity for outreach to accomplished artists around the world, The Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center awarded Creative Arts Fellowships. The program brought more than twenty acclaimed artists from across the globe to Bellagio, nominated by an advisory panel of leading international curators, for extended residencies to develop projects inspired by or related to social or global issues. One to two years after fellows completed their Creative Arts residencies, the Foundation published a catalogue of their work that resulted from or was informed by their time at the Center.

Recently, the final set of artist catalogues was published, and we are thrilled to share the complete series of catalogues from the Creative Arts Fellows program with the world.

This series points to a powerful trend: the rise globally of a new generation of socially-engaged artmaking emerging in the first few decades of the 21st century.

Highlighting just a small portion of this extraordinary series, Bellagio Creative Arts Fellows Gauri Gill, Chen Shaoxiong, and Suzanne Lacy exemplify the trend towards socially-engaged practice using three very different art forms.

In her photographic series “Fields of Sight”, Gauri Gill collaborated with the Warli artist Rajesh Vangad who comes from an Adivasi village in coastal Maharashtra. Gill invited Vangad to inscribe her photographs of the village with Warli painting—a highly symbolic form of tribal art originating in Maharashtra, dating to the 10th century A.D. and still practiced today. The act of inscribing contemporary landscape photography with Warli imagery presents the Adivasi visual culture as both ancient and modern at once. The series elevates what is often hidden or undervalued in narratives of social and technological progress—the presence and power of complex knowledge systems and rich visual cultures within indigenous communities across the country.

Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad, Moonlight in the Forest, from “Fields of Sight” 2014, ink on archival pigment print. ©Gauri Gill and Rajesh Vangad, courtesy of artists.

Chen Shaoxiong used the Bellagio residency to develop a new video piece, Ink Media. For this work, Shaoxiong downloaded news photos of 2011 protests around the world from the Internet, and then re-enacted these scenes with ink drawings. Taking this imagery out of its original context and converting it to ink animation, the video shows both the variations and commonalities of organized political resistance in its many global manifestations throughout this tumultuous year. 2011 saw large-scale protests all over the world—Arab spring, Occupy Wall Street, protests against economic breakdown and austerity measures in Greece, Italy, and Spain. Ink Media, omitting any chronological or spatial order from these real events, illustrates and makes universal the expression of political protest while memorializing moments in time that are also very particular, recognizable, and geographically dispersed.

Chen Shaoxiong, Ink Media, 2011-2013, ink painting & video with sound

Suzanne Lacy, while in residence at Bellagio, developed her performance piece De tu Puño y Letra, which was performed in Quito, Ecuador on November 25, 2015—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. In this work, as in others, the final performance piece reflected a long process of community engagement that took place over many months. In this case, the engagement centered on the 2012 Cartas de Mujeres project, where 10,000 Ecuadorian women wrote letters on their experiences of violence. Lacy brought together city government departments, non-governmental agencies, art organizations and educational institutions to collaborate on the design and production of a performance piece based on these letters. A centerpiece of the community engagement was a workshop about masculinity and violence in which men “adopted” a letter from an unknown woman. In the final performance, which took place in the Plaza Belmonte bullring in Quito, 1,500 people witnessed 350 men reading letters from the Cartas project—dramatizing and bearing witness to the pervasive problem of gender-based violence.

Suzanne Lacy De tu Puño y Letra (By Your Own Hand), photo by Raúl Peñafiel

We are thrilled to make the full Bellagio Creative Arts catalogue series available to the public. The series reflects the Bellagio Center’s ongoing commitment to support innovative, thought-provoking, and socially-engaged artistic practice. It is also emblematic of our strong belief that artists are key partners and collaborators in our collective effort to find lasting solutions to 21st-century problems and build a better future for all of humanity.

The Bellagio Center

Creative Arts Fellowship Series


Suzanne Lacy

Emily Jacir

Milumbe Haimbe


Dinh Q. Lê

Berni Searle


Gauri Gill

Chen Shaoxiong

Ala Younis


Alexander Apóstol

José Toraic

Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries


Pablo Cardoso

Sue Williamson


Berry Bickle

Zbigniew Libera


Kofi Setordji

Mona Hatoum

Shazia Sikander

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