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Visual Culture: from the lens of equity

In a world that is potentially governed by images, the meaning of a visual culture emerges as it traverses through a diverse array of information and communication technologies. One of the key references in understanding visual culture is Mirzoeff (2003) who defines visual culture as the relationship between the viewer and the image he or she is looking at, and his or her ability to analyze the observation. This activity led to the creation of this field of study.

Each visualization exercise belongs to a specific historical moment that provides valuable

information to the observer in discovering the pieces of a puzzle that explains a photograph, theater scene, performance, work of art, piece of music, video, documentary, or film. But how do visual metaphors and conceptual approaches on social justice, dignity, and equity merge within the context of a visual culture?

Today more than ever it is necessary to analyze social relationships, particularly the occurrence of unconscious bias in human interactions. The unconscious bias is borne in our brain, in the prefrontal cortex. It responds to learned behaviors that are expressed through daily micro-discriminations that are part of a web of social interactions. Consequently, visual culture is impacted by the micro-discriminations that we express. Art is a fundamental part of visual culture and, being a universal semiotic language that goes through all phases of human creation, it should be free of these behaviors that produce micro-discrimination. Therefore, we should treasure education as a combat tool in this process. There is an amalgam of diverse and inclusive perspectives that are key in operating with an equity lens and they can be integrated in art education and the study of human relationships. In any case, achieving equity requires the sum of the actions in diversity and inclusion.

The concepts of diversity and inclusion are frequently touched upon in conversations about the performance of businesses, nonprofit entities, and philanthropy. Diversity manifests itself when we value differences of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, culture, sexual orientation, age, religion, disabilities, and perspectives. Inclusion refers to promoting and valuing the contribution and integration of all individuals and cultural groups and recognizing that personal and community barriers exist to achieve this. Both concepts complement each other when acting on the right to be different. Organizational development research supports the need for establishing a culture that respects differences as it has been shown to impact performance significantly in human endeavors.

Therefore, promoting equity allows for a revolutionary visual culture that can weigh in on our understanding of free expression with special attention to art. How can this revolution include discerning between what exclusively appeals to consumption and art that seeks equity and social goals? One of the supporting ecosystems that can influence this revolution are non-profit organizations. Those whose purpose is to catalyze collective good in a sustainable manner and from an inclusive perspective of cultural industries and social entrepreneurs.

Non-profits have also approached this discussion through their investment assets. A Knight Foundation sponsored study on asset management and performance entitled “Diversifying Investments” presents cutting-edge approaches of integrating inclusion and diversity criteria in managing investment portfolios. How does investing broaden the discussion? The interests of nonprofit endowments and investment reserves represent billions of dollars in company ownership, and they are increasingly aligned with the worldwide adoption of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These are 17 postulates that emphasize actions towards sustainability.

The United Nations proposal endorsed by the 193 sovereign countries from offers a scaffolding in understanding the challenge of sustainability without becoming a rigid guideline to follow. The visual culture that emanates once the 17 objectives are translated into actions must be solidified by the lens of equity, bringing together all languages, generational interests, identities, and cultural references.

In other words, visual culture is transversal and tends to safeguard social and collective icons and cultural heritages created by human beings and their environments. A visual culture must be free from discrimination and criticism of the standards created under the structures of privilege and power that we see through visual events. It is urgent to analyze the aesthetics of visual culture from the crucible of globalization and it will depend on viewers to achieve the eradication of discrimination as we rethink democratic and humanistic references in the arts’ digital age.

Mariely Rivera-Hernández is a social entrepreneur with studies in International Relations, Communication Theory, Cultural Studies and Comparative Politics. She is a writer, an expert in non-profit organizations, a promoter of educational projects, a culture of health leader and a proponent of strategic philanthropy.

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