Very little else in this world has the same transformative power as art.

Throughout history, people have used art as a form of expression of thought, a celebration of beauty, and a protest against injustice. From cave walls to art galleries, the story of mankind has found its home and has represented a people’s culture, beliefs, struggles, and history.

But that last piece is of utmost importance: It represents their struggles and history.

In a world where history is written by the victors, indigenous people, those of the diaspora, and suppressed nations and populations rarely see their stories recorded – or accurately represented. And so it is through their art that gives us the clearest picture of who they are, what they’ve been through, and their contributions to the history of the world.

So, when we say art is important – we don’t just mean it’s important for creative expression or freedom of thought (which it is!). We mean it’s a critical part of the story of humanity (and inhumanity) and deserves to be protected. It shows us a side of history that colonialism would have liked us to ignore.

Art is not only vital to correct the historical narrative, but it’s also a way to fight neocolonialism.

Colonialism describes DIRECT control over a people (for example, the British Empire colonized Kenya in the early 1900s and forced the indigenous population to work for them). Meanwhile, neocolonialism describes the suppression of a people using INDIRECT methods of control (for example, financial aid from dominant states given to non-dominate states, i.e., China’s investments in Africa).

It’s easier to identify colonialism; it’s blatant, obvious suppression. Neocolonialism is more subtle – it’s less “in your face” and more “behind your back.” But the intention is the same; to keep one group down for the benefit of another.

If we were to use the example above of China and Africa, could the same be said here in the United States? A system that creates a dependence on the government – that delivers infrequent aid and handouts instead of actual assistance and hand-ups – may actually be a form of neocolonialism.

How do we fight against – and even cancel – neocolonialism? How can art serve as the conduit for this change? How does a painting undo hundreds of years of damage and hurt?

Short answer: One painting doesn’t.

But it’s the process of coming together, across nations and peoples and mediums and times, to collectively tell the true story and factual portrayals. It’s the process of celebrating and prioritizing art in our schools and communities, about investing resources to build something that nobody else can take credit for. It’s about not waiting to be handed the brush and the paint. It’s about using our blood, sweat, and tears – the power within us already – to create something of beauty and meaning to be shared with the world.

Tell us what you think. What are some examples of neocolonialism that you’ve witnessed? How do you think we can continue to fight against it?