“We see all the ugly in the world and try to make it beautiful” –civil society ‘artivist’ Soré Agbaje


Spoken word artist Soré Agbaje performed a poem at the Global Civil Society Dialogue on 23 November. A student at Brooklyn College in New York, majoring in political science and double minoring in journalism and TV/radio, she explains how she uses the art and language through "I Sell The Shadow"—a collective of socially conscious artists that aims to build meaningful and sustainable partnerships with UN/NGO agencies through performances, workshops and partnerships. She speaks about her drive to shed light on issues that affect people in her community and around the world. In her own words…

“ ‘Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter’. A huge part of why I write stems from this quote. I'm very passionate and I internalize a lot of things that go on around the world and in my community. 

Spoken word artist Soré Agbaje. Photo: Lisa Russell
Spoken word artist Soré Agbaje performs a poem at the Global Civil Society Dialogue on 23 November 2015. Photo: I Sell the Shadow/Lisa Russell

I want to tell the truth and be unapologetic in this truth. I tend to write pieces that deal with social issues and the people affected or involved. Meeting one of the survivors and victors of the Boko Haram kidnappings was a life-changing experience for me. I've written plays and poems, trying to humanize, give a face and a voice to the girls beyond a hashtag. So to actually get the chance to meet her and hear her story, not through the perspective of a news anchor, play, poem, or journalist was amazing. It taught me an important lesson: look beyond political movements, zoom into the individual stories. I think sometimes we forget this without meaning to.

I Sell The Shadow gives artists like me a platform for civic engagement. I think artists have a lot to say. We observe everything. We see all the ugly in the world and try to make it beautiful—whether that's through a song, picture, or a painting. This doesn't makes us any different from let's say an activist or a community organizer or even a politician with the right intentions. We all want the same thing. We are sensitive to the injustice and ugly of the world and have a deep desire to change it. 

Art humanizes people and their stories. In a class or other structured settings, we tend to talk about issues in terms of statistics or labeling terms like Third World. These labels paint whole groups of people with one brush. That can be limiting. Art paints a vivid, layered and individualized picture. Art presents world issues in a way that can be widely understood by anyone regardless of your race, class, gender, language or culture.

The work we do at I Sell The Shadow sheds light on real issues and injustices that happen in our individual communities and all around the world. Art is a powerful tool that can be used to disarm someone in order for them to accept the truth and help bring about change. “I Sell The Shadow” brings this art directly to the people that have the appointed power and have the resources to bring change.

There is a really large community of ‘artivists’ all around the world. Artists like me, who have dedicated their lives and their work to upholding justice. I Sell The Shadow gives us a platform. We aren't politicians so we don't have an agenda or a political party to answer to. We don't have to be afraid that this truth that needs to be told might offend this funder. This is important because we can then say the things that need to be heard and hold our world leaders accountable.”

Link to Sore's YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheSpokenSociety/videos

Link to I Sell The Shadow performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tti9dx5zYM

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are of the artist and may not necessarily reflect those of UN Women.