University of Hong Kong student merges art and activism

Nicole Tan
  • The Covid-19 pandemic may have disrupted Artpeace’s plans, but its message of empowerment can’t be silenced
  • The group’s next project, Art Five All, celebrates diversity through art workshops for students with special needs around the world
Nicole Tan |
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Alya Prasad, a 20-year-old who teaches English to refugees and migrant students in Thailand through drama and dance, says she has been passionate about all forms of art from a young age. Photo: Tse Di Heng

Before starting Artpeace, a global organisation merging art and activism, Alya Prasad, 20, says she had always been passionate about art from a young age.

And when she attended Humanitarian Affairs Asia’s Peace Summit of Emerging Leaders in February 2020, she found a like-minded soul in Priscilla Fong, a 21-year-old student from the National University of Singapore.

They both were familiar with how teaching art could be life-changing and empowering. Alya had gone to Thailand to use drama and dance to teach English to refugees and migrants. Priscilla had helped deliver music workshops to Afghani refugees in Cisarua, Indonesia.

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“We exchanged experiences of witnessing art’s ability to help marginalised communities,” Alya explained through email.

The two feel connected immediately, and their shared passions led them to found Artpeace in April 2020. Today, it is led by an international team of 11 students, from Singapore, South Africa, Australia, Japan, the United States, India, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

She takes pride in how her team is from many different parts of the world: “I’ve witnessed the strength in diversity, which brings a variety of perspectives and enriches our global impact.”

Alya's team consists of students from all around the world.

“We decided to merge our passion towards activism,” said Alya, who attends the University of Hong Kong.

She is an education major learning how to meet diverse student needs.

“I’ve been able to incorporate so much of what I’m passionate about into expanding Artpeace,” she says.

Their upcoming project, Art Five All, is about celebrating and understanding diversity through art workshops for students around the globe with special needs. Locally, they’re working with the Hong Kong Red Cross Margaret Trench School for students with physical disabilities.

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Facilitators will work with students to promote skill-building, empowerment, and social and emotional wellness.

“Art Five All sessions will culminate in a virtual Art and Cultural Festival, a showcase of the artwork by our participants [and] video highlights of the project,” explains Alya.

The festival is scheduled for July 17 with an estimated 200 guests expected. There will be percussion instrument performances by members of Little People of Hong Kong, and cultural performances by students from across the world.

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Similar to other organisations around the world, the pandemic paused many of Artpeace’s plans. Alya shared that initially, they had wanted to create an international service trip to bring drama and music workshops to refugee students across Southeast Asia.

Nonetheless, she adds, “Amidst this global pandemic, we’ve continued to develop projects in a direction that is unorthodox and unconventional.”

They’ve overcome travel restrictions and maintained social distancing by incorporating online broadcasting.

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In the past, Artpeace has hosted E-Busking for Relief, where student performances were streamed virtually last June to raise money for cyclone relief in India and for migrant workers in Singapore. Last August, Frontline Beauty, donated more than 300 gift packages and thank-you cards to essential workers across three countries. Art Apart, last November, taught English skills to refugees through art, drama and music.

“Art Apart and Frontline Beauty are two initiatives that have warmed my heart the most,” Alya says.

“Not only did these projects raise awareness for marginalised communities, but they also brought about measurable impact in people’s lives.”

Frontline workers in Singapore hold up gifts from Frontline Beauty, which donated more than 300 packages and thank-you cards to essential workers across three countries. Photo: Artpeace

For the Art Apart workshops, she recruited student facilitators, and for Frontline Beauty, she partnered with local companies to donate care packages for frontline workers, security guards, airline staff, and dentists.

Looking forward, Alya hopes to explore other art forms for their advocacy, such as dance, fashion and videography.

“We hope to inspire and support the development of inclusive education through art in Hong Kong and the world, especially given the circumstances during a global pandemic,” she shares.

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Artpeace’s work has shown how art can communicate across cultural and language differences.

We experience the true power of activism within art when we see a painting or performance that doesn’t just catch our eye. It should send a message that makes us pause and think about what someone else is experiencing.

Learn more about Artpeace on their Instagram account (@xrtpeace) or on their website (www.xrtpeace.com).

 

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