To kick off Black History Month, the Wikimedia Foundation, the global nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, announced the launch of Wiki Unseen, a collaboration with artists aimed at expanding the visual representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) in Wikimedia projects and advancing knowledge equity.
Launched on February 9th, the first iteration of the project, a collaboration with artists from Africa, North America, and the Caribbean, will help to address the visual and written underrepresentation of several Black historical figures on Wikipedia and in media repository Wikimedia Commons. In addition to global artists, the Foundation is collaborating with AfroCROWD.org, a Wikipedia-volunteer led initiative to create and improve information about Black culture and history on Wikipedia, as well as Bēhance, a social media platform that showcases creative work on the initiative.
Research shows that Wikipedia articles featuring illustrations increase audience engagement and views, creating an additional point of entry for visual learners and expanding understanding of the information presented. With this in mind, the Wikimedia Foundation and AfroCROWD.org worked together to select 20 Wikipedia articles of BIPOC historical figures without visual representation, further collaborating with Bēhance to source a list of artists from the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean to create portraits of each. This year, the artists will create portraits for six of 20 total historical figures.
The commissioned artists include Enam Bosokah from Ghana, Esther Griffith from Trinidad, and Bukhtawar Malik from the United States. Among the first articles that will feature new illustrations are: Marian Ewurama Addy, William Greaves, Rose Dieng-Kuntz, May Miller, Mercedes Richards, and Asquith Xavier. These portraits will be published throughout the month of February; they include personalities whose images are not freely licensed and therefore unable to be added to Wikipedia articles.
“Wiki Unseen aims to make Black histories and those of other people underrepresented on Wikipedia more visible,” said Anusha Alikhan, Vice President of Communications at the Wikimedia Foundation. “Closing knowledge equity gaps — including visual ones — is key to ensuring Wikimedia projects are accessible to everyone and represent the breadth of the world’s cultures, experiences, and languages. We know that our work is incomplete until the diversity of our world’s histories are seen.”
When BIPOC histories are told, too often they lack visual representation. Of the 30+ articles in the African Royalty category on English Wikipedia, for example, only three pages picture their subjects. Visual aids and illustrations help people understand and retain information; their absence reinforces and perpetuates biases.
“The Caribbean is rich in culture and heritage. That such rich biographies of people contributing to Caribbean history would not have visual representation is a shame and I am excited that I am contributing towards re-illustrating the history of my region,” said Esther Griffith. “With each biography that is illustrated we are making a statement that it is possible to redraw history and I hope more artists will join me on this journey.” said Esther Griffith.
Wikipedia is powered by a global community of volunteer contributors working to advance Wikimedia projects in support of a vision to ensure that people everywhere can share in the sum of all human knowledge. A central pillar of the Wikimedia Movement’s 2030 strategy is to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge, focused on communities left out by structures of power and privilege.
Wiki Unseen builds on the previous efforts of Wikimedia volunteers including Les sans pagEs, a French Wikipedia initiative, and the #VisibleWikiWomen campaign by Whose Knowledge?, which ran similar projects to bridge gender gaps.
For more information about the Wikimedia Foundation and Wiki Unseen, visit unseen.wikimedia.org.
To learn more about how the Wikimedia Foundation and movement are working towards knowledge equity, visit wikimediafoundation.org/opentheknowledge.
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