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Land, Memory, and the Power of Art

In Depth

Two figures stand on a bridge dressed in hand-made Indigenous regalia.
© Cannupa Hanska Luger

How can communities use art to imagine a better tomorrow that protects and celebrates nature—and the people that live within it? The 2023 Soros Arts Fellows will pursue projects that reckon with the role of socially engaged art in a time of crisis.


Tatiana Mouarbes, team manager working on Culture and Art at Open Society, reflects on this year’s Soros Arts Fellows.

At a time when the world faces a number of competing crises, art matters more than ever. Where open society is under threat, artists can bring new perspective and creativity to open up space for hope. For communities whose voices and power have been repressed, art offers pathways to speak out, envision, and bring about a more just and inclusive future.

A person stands at a podium in front of a projected presentation.
2023 Soros Arts Fellow Yto Barrada shows children’s drawings of native plants during a presentation on her work and process in Lisbon, Portugal, in September 2023. During her fellowship, Barrada will expand botanical literacy to disseminate radical ways of making and thinking with the Mothership Manifesto, a collaborative, multidisciplinary, transgenerational and educational textile project at the Mothership, an eco-feminist residency, garden, and studio in Tangier, Morocco. © Patricia de Melo Moreira/Factstory for the Open Society Foundations

“When injustice occurs—great or small, historic or contemporary—art gives people the power to demand redress. It allows communities to dream of a better world, and in fact to begin building it. In sum, art is a fundamental component of inclusive and diverse democracies that serve all their people.”
— Tatiana Mouarbes

The Soros Arts Fellowship is the largest award for socially engaged art in the world. The Fellowship provides innovative mid-career artists the freedom to develop work on their own terms, which celebrates their cultures and promotes justice for their communities. The project is steeped in the belief that art is an essential tool to achieve equity and social change by allowing for the reconfiguring and redistribution of power in society.

A group photo of the 2023 Soros Arts Fellows cohort.
The 2023 cohort of the Soros Arts Fellows pose for a group photo during a gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, in September 2023. © Patricia de Melo Moreira/Factstory for the Open Society Foundations

The fourth cohort of the Fellowship, awarded in 2023, is focused on art, land and public memory. The artists are based in diverse communities that face common and interconnected struggles: overcoming colonialist and white supremacist attacks, the destruction of natural environments, extractive capitalism, and the attempted erasure of ancient and Indigenous knowledge and culture. But art provides opportunity for justice and healing through all such adversity.  

This year’s Soros Arts Fellows, in collaboration with their wider communities, are seizing these opportunities, and developing innovative and inspiring concepts through their projects. They are leading impact-driven art projects that propose bold solutions to address the climate crisis, reclaim and uplift Indigenous knowledge, and imagine and build sustainable futures. We are proud to support their work—and to see what it can bring to the wider world.

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