February 21, 2024

On Nov. 13 at 9:20 p.m., ISIS suicide bombers and mass shooters attacked Paris and killed 130 people. Shortly after the attacks, social media lit up in solidarity and sparked prayers from strangers on a global scale.

“The first time I saw the ‘Peace for Paris’ image I was out of state and had no idea what was happening because I had not been watching the news,” said Evonne Limones, senior psychology major. “There are a lot of people who can’t help out in ways I think they wish they could, so just using an image like that allows them to extend out their support.”

One of the most prominent messages was an image of the Eiffel Tower set in a peace sign. The “Peace for Paris” image was created by Jean Jullien, French graphic designer, and shared by millions of people as a way to express hope and love for the victims of the attack.

“It was the most spontaneous thing,” Jullien said in an interview with CNN. “I heard the news on the radio and I had this heartfelt reaction. I wanted to draw something that could symbolize peace and solidarity, and I wanted something with the context of Paris.”

The attacks in Paris were anticipated by the French government, who failed to figure out the locations that would be affected, leaving the Bataclan concert venue, the Stade de France, and several restaurants vulnerable.

“Europe has a more open policy to culture than we do here in the U.S.,” said Kristine Lippire, assistant professor of visual art. “That is exactly why the locations that were attacked were all cultural in nature. If you want to cripple the United States, you hit the finance sector. If you want to stop Europe, you hit a concert hall.”

Art has been used as a social statement since the early 1900s, focusing on controversy or the need for a change in the political world. Artistic expression can be an important part of social commentary.

“Art has always been an important way to communicate deep messages,” said Dr. Amy Stumpf, professor of society and religion. “When you think about the abolition of the first transatlantic slave trade, what finally turned the tide were pictures and diagrams of a ship with where the slave bodies were assigned. I could tell you all day long about these slaves, but when people saw it, it hit them at a very deep level.”

Racism, religious warfare, and the refugee crisis have become major subjects of artistic interpretation as grassroots activism continues to grow. Social justice groups across the country have been holding exhibits to bring awareness to their causes.

“We can see the same thing with movies now and how we get our big stories of human rights violations,” Stumpf said. “You could read report after report and no one cares. Then you see a visual–an art, if you will–of a boy’s body washed up onshore in Greece and now we have a movement. Art has this way of speaking beyond what information can ever convey.”

In January, artists stood by French satirical publication “Charlie Hebdo,” after it had depicted the prophet Muhammed on the cover of one of its issues and was attacked by armed assailants. The magazine continued to produce images to defend the principle that one may draw whatever one wants.

“It is very important to stand up with small acts of defiance that bring people together and make them feel connected,” Lippire said. “These acts can be so much more than the destructive act that sent them in action. Art is and should be our small acts of defiance.”

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