Orwell Art is a unit of study developed by Toronto high school teacher and community leader Nadia Guerrera in 2015 to teach about the fragility of democracy and the role of civic engagement in safeguarding it around the world.

Orwell Art is a unit of study developed by Toronto high school teacher and community leader Nadia Guerrera in 2015 to teach about the fragility of democracy and the role of civic engagement in safeguarding it around the world. 

Through Orwell Art, students learn stewardship and democratic engagement by studying how Orwell overcame rejection and censorship to publish Animal Farm, his satire of the Soviet Union, at a time when Stalin was a World War II ally. Like Orwell, students use the power of art to communicate the fragility of democracy and to address fundamental human rights issues, past and present.  They are learning global citizenship and the greater context of history behind today’s headlines on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and how the current area of the fighting—eastern Ukraine—was devastated by the Holodomor, a genocide-famine engineered by Stalin that starved to death millions of Ukrainians, including many of the country’s artists and academics.  Students then create and exhibit works of art on the urgent human rights crisis in Ukraine in the spirit of Orwell. The art exhibits are open to the public with photos posted on social media tagged #OrwellArt. 

  Orwell Art gallery opening in Toronto, Canada featuring original works by students of   Nadia Guerrera  's Global Studies class at Michael Power-St. Joseph High School

Orwell Art gallery opening in Toronto, Canada featuring original works by students of Nadia Guerrera's Global Studies class at Michael Power-St. Joseph High School

To prepare them for this assignment, the students read Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm, which gives the behind the scenes making of this classic and beloved novel. In Orwell and The Refugees, the actual horrific events that Orwell allegorizes are told through the memoir passages of one man—Olexji Keis from the Ukrainian city Donetsk, which is currently under Russian occupation—who survived the Holodomor as well as torture at the hands of the secret police during Stalin’s purges. Keis is the grandfather of the author, Andrea Chalupa, a journalist and human rights activist who made her mark on the recent revolution in Ukraine by launching the social media movement #DigitalMaidan to raise awareness of escalating government violence against pro-democracy demonstrators. 

As part of the unit of study, Chalupa conducts a Skype lecture to the students, sharing her experiences of launching a Facebook event page, inviting initially 99 friends, and watching over 30,000 people from around the world be invited within two days; together they flooded Twitter with urgent messages directed at major media and world leaders, earning Tweets of support from the Prime Minister of France and others, making Ukraine trend globally for the first time on Twitter and within minutes. For students, this serves as an example of the importance of social media as a tool for democratic engagement. 

Orwell Art provides an inspiring and empowering experience for students. It works to spark within them an interest in stewardship and democratic engagement, teaching students that every voice matters. 

Transnational Education Group (TEG), the Washington, DC-based nonprofit that works to empower future international leaders from emerging countries, is our partner in organizing Orwell Art in Ukraine, and uniting Ukrainian classrooms with classrooms around the world to foster greater understanding, civics education, and global citizenship. 

Plans to expand Orwell Art are in motion, as educators have shown interest in engaging with this global education program. We are also interested in expanding further and opening up the scope of study to include other areas in the world that are undergoing the struggle for democracy.


Would you like to bring Orwell Art to your classroom and receive free copies of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm? Sign up for the free Orwell Art program by connecting with us on our Facebook page or contact Nadia Guerrera at guerrera.nadia@gmail.com or via Twitter @nadia_guerrera