The Power of Art: Creating an Equitable and Inclusive Society

International Futures is a program featuring young aspirants from across the globe. We started a series of interviews. The second is Refilwe Nkomo, a Johannesburg-based multidisciplinary artist, curator, and scholar who uses various mediums to work towards an empowered, equitable, and inclusive society

How does art empower, and thereby change, the society in terms of equality?

I am an artist working at the intersection of arts, social justice, and sustainability. I believe the arts are an integral part of imagining and creating different, more inclusive, fairer, equitable, and just futures. If we can’t imagine a different future, we cannot create it. Art and arts-based practices actively engage the imagination and allow us to work and live in more empowering ways. I create art that deals with social justice issues as a way of understanding this world, my place in it, and challenging various power dynamics. I create and facilitate space in the form of workshops, productions, and interactions for sustained change. I work closely with activists, scholars, and scientists to create more meaningful, collaborative ways of engaging with often complex challenges such as gender-based violence or climate change.

What’s the current situation of women in South Africa?

I would say that the situation for womxn globally is very complex and difficult, and especially so in South Africa, where we are dealing with high rates of gender-based violence in addition to socio-economic disadvantages and structural violence. The intersections of sexuality, class, race, geographical location, ability/disability, education, etc all also play important roles in womxn’s abilities to live full, safe, healthy, and happy lives. It would be difficult to adequately answer this question as I believe due to these intersections, the situation for womxn in South Africa is different for every womxn. I will state, however, that whilst we have made significant inroads in terms of representation and womxn’s rights (largely due to the efforts of amazing womxn and feminists in civil society who have worked tirelessly to change the situation for womxn in South Africa), there is still much to be done, particularly in terms of violence and ensuring that womxn do not live in fear of being raped, sexually assaulted, beaten, or killed. I’m encouraged by the work of civil society, scholars, and feminists working to realize the change in our society.

‘Womxn’ is intended to be a more inclusive and progressive term that promotes intersectionality. The term expects to shed light on the prejudice, discrimination, and institutional barriers women faced in the past, and to also suggest that women are not the extension of men, but their own free and separate entities. ‘Womxn’ was coined by activist Ebony Miranda for a women’s march she organized in Seattle in 2016.

What are your thoughts on diaspora, migration, and citizenship?

I would like to see a world with more fluid borders and ease of movement – not only of people, but of resources, knowledge, and ideas. I’m interested in ideas and principles of sharing and notions of the commons (shared resources, shared economies, shared leadership, etc) and would advocate for practices that create more empowered, knowledgeable, diverse, just, equitable, and fair societies.

What led you to a Masters in Arts and Politics from NYU and not from your hometown?

There were then and currently are, no options I’m aware of focused on arts and politics or arts and social justice at a masters level in South Africa, hence the decision to study at New York University. I was also very drawn to the program because of the faculty, such as the late Prof. Randy Martin, Kathy Engel, Pato Hebert, Karen Finley, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, and the focus on engaging with the community, participatory knowledge systems, and the fluidity of the program. I was also interested in broadening my network and working within a global community – the program consisted of participants from across the world and it was interesting and important for me to create and solidify my global network, learn and understand how people in other regions are organizing, working in and with communities, and creating change through the arts. Solidarity and collaboration are also very integral parts of my practice and being able to work with people across the world, support their efforts, and have them support me, too, is very important.

What’s your takeaway from the International Futures training program?

The challenges of the world are increasingly global and if we are to change the world and create the kind of world we want to see – a fairer, just, equal, and equitable world – we need each other; we need to work together. We cannot continue to live and work in isolation, as we are more connected than we know (or maybe more than we are willing to admit). Global cooperation and interconnectivity, multidisciplinarity, and collaboration are key factors to how we will move forward in the future. Having different people from different disciplines from across the world in one room together, getting to know each other and working with each other is very powerful. The network I developed during International Futures and the Managing Global Governance Program has been instrumental in further opening my world and allowing me to continue to the work I do.

The International Future Program

Every year we open two slots for German civil society.

If you are interested in the programme please contact programme manager Isabel Reible (isabel.reible@diplo.de) to get more information or visit our websites:



This year’s program will take place from September 14 – September 28
(Deadline to apply will be June 30)

We are looking forward to hearing from you!

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