How to use visual art for social change

Written by Kyabayinze Vincent, EAVA Artists

Please tell us about the context you work in.

Uganda’s anti homosexuality laws are some of the strictest in the world. Uganda is also a predominately religious country with 84% of the population identifying as Christian, according to the 2014 census. Every day in Uganda there are many injustices committed against LGBT people, but very few if any of these outrages make it into the public arena. Many of the public TV and radio media companies in Uganda are Christian based, and the few private media companies that are not also Christian owned are censored by government with strict guidelines that don’t allow any LGBT content. To help overcome this EAVA and its supporters have strategically used visual arts to reach a wider Ugandan audience, with reliable information about the LGBT community.

How did you work on this problem and what changes did you make?

We focused on using visual arts (documentary films, photography, and public exhibitions) as an alternative media to provide reliable information on the LGBT community without censorship.

As part of this we have produced short clips and also full-length documentary films of us talking to activists and LGBT people about their day to day lives. The films are screened to the general public and also uploaded online for easy access. For organisations just starting out using visual media, you could use a basic mobile phone or small pocket digital camera for filming, or if you have the budget, a DSLR camera. To edit, use free software like Pica Photo Gallery or free mobile apps like Adobe Premier Clip. Other apps are listed in the resources section.

We have created a platform of resources – a website, video clips and pdf manuals – to counter the hateful narrative and misinformation that are spread in the country. This platform bridges the gap in information flow within the general public, by helping to create a clear understanding of the LGBT community. Again, for those starting out with visual media, you could begin with producing short video clips posted to YouTube or leaflets and build up from there.

Our main focus is to raise awareness to promote inclusion and educate the general public to respect and welcome LGBT people. We have identified prominent LGBT allies who have spoken boldly on camera in support for LGBT rights, among them are religious leaders, lawyers, health workers and parents who share their experience working and living with LGBT persons.

We use an educational approach rather than a confrontational one.

What did you achieve?

We have published three feature length documentaries on the lived realities of LGBT people in Uganda. We have also produced two short films which interrogate the law, health and cultural beliefs’ and their impact on the lives of Ugandan LGBT people. We have seen our works/productions being referred to in a positive way in our local news bulletin. We have also held two public screenings of the documentary which 420 people attended and distributed 600 DVDs to organisations and individuals across Uganda, thus helping to bridge the gap in information regarding LGBT people.

We have received lots of positive feedback, but also some homophobic comments. We always take the time to engage with these comments, online and one on one depending on their questions and criticism. If going to a one to one meeting, we carry out a very high scrutiny beforehand due to security reasons.

What did you learn from this experience?

It is important to localise content, and tailor it to the right audience, this makes it easy for people to appreciate and understand what you are communicating about.

Working directly with the LGBT community and empowering LGBT individuals to document their lives is very important; it paves way for evidence-based advocacy where every point is backed up by undisputed facts.

We have also learnt that allies are key and must speak up in public against discrimination and violations. This is fundamental. Religious leaders who speak to their church members to love and support LGBT people are also key, Uganda being a predominately religious country.

What are your tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  • Identify the alternative means of communication needed to reach out to a wider audience.
  • Create content that speaks to the local communities and always be original.
  • Always bear in mind the safety of participants in your projects, just in case there is any back lash. For example, if going to one to one meetings always carry out a very high scrutiny beforehand.
  • For organisations just starting out using visual media:
    • Use a basic mobile phone or small pocket digital camera for filming, or if you have the budget, a DSLR camera.
    • To edit, use free software like Pica Photo Gallery or free mobile apps like Adobe Premier Clip. Other apps are listed in the resources section
    • Produce short video clips posted to YouTube and/or develop leaflets and build up from there.

Do you have any photos or documents that would help or inspire another organisation or group facing the same problems?

Resilience diaries, Uganda a documentary film on the lived realties of transgender people in Uganda. This film helped shaped conversations in the community on transgender people and has improved awareness and understanding.

Out in the cold, looking at homeless LGBT people and how religious leaders commented on the issues.

External resources

Best video editing apps 2020: The 12 best apps for quick mobile edits (

Kyabayinze Vincent, EAVA Artists

Kyabayinze Vincent, is the founder and executive director of EAVA Artists Ltd. He is the chairman on the board of directors for youth on the Rock Foundation a health advocacy organisation for men who have sex with men.

EAVA Artists website