‘Art + Activism' links poverty and sustainability

by Simone D'Luna | 1/28/13 11:00pm

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Featuring a perhaps unexpected combination of sustainability, poverty and art, the student art show "Art + Activism" will open this Thursday in the student gallery of the Black Family Visual Arts Center.

The show, which will run until the end of the term, is the result of collaborative efforts between the Office of Sustainability, the "A Monstrous Octopus: The Tentacles of Poverty" symposium team and "This Is Not a Group," a student organization responsible for running, curating and installing exhibits in the gallery.

The theme "Art + Activism" originated when the Sustainability in the Arts interns and representatives from the "A Monstrous Octopus" symposium approached student gallery co-managers Luca Molnar '13 and Sabrina Yegela '13 about combining the arts with their respective focus areas.

Both student groups were especially eager to incorporate their ideas with the arts to align with the Hopkins Center's Year of the Arts initiative, Sustainability in the Arts intern Anna Morenz '13 said.

"We really felt that the arts can be a form of activism in terms of providing powerful visual images that get people thinking about social issues or raise consciousness about issues in a different way than say, a lecture or some of the other opportunities on campus," Morenz said. "We were interested in tapping into that striking emotional power that art has."

"A Monstrous Octopus: The Tentacles of Poverty" is a conference that will be held from Jan. 30 to Feb. 1 by the Nathan Smith Society, the Geisel School of Medicine's chapter of Physicians for Human Rights and the Tuck School of Business's Center for Business and Society.

The symposium features several events in conjunction with the "Art + Activism" exhibit throughout this week, according to Anna Huh Med'15, co-chair of the Geisel chapter of Physicians for Human Rights.

"We want to spark a conversation among Dartmouth students, the entire Upper Valley community and beyond about what each of us as individuals, as an institution and as a community can do about issues of poverty, homelessness and social inequity," Huh said. "We often think the world of alleviating poverty is for someone else to do or is incompatible with some career we choose, but the fact of the matter is it's not. What we want is to show people that there is something we can do. We only have to think of a way."

As part of the schedule of events, letterpress printer Amos Kennedy, whose work is currently displayed in Baker-Berry Library, will hold a printmaking session on Jan. 30. Photojournalist James Nachtwey '70 will also hold a discussion about his career and social justice work that afternoon.

Thursday's opening reception of the art show will follow a screening of the Academy Award-nominated film "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (2012) in Loew Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The event will feature refreshments, discussion of the artwork and the unveiling of an original poster designed by Amos Kennedy for "A Monstrous Octopus." The group will also be collecting donations for the Peruvian philanthropy organization Visionarios, according to Huh.

Because the student gallery which opened this Fall is relatively new, "Art + Activism" will be one of the first shows to be hosted in the space, according to Molnar. Nearly all pieces submitted will be able to be showcased. Along with formally submitted work, "This Is Not a Group" and the Office of Sustainability encouraged students and community members to gather in the gallery to create artwork from trash, found items and recycled materials in three open studio sessions held this past weekend, Morenz said.

"We really hope to bring people who aren't necessarily arts students into the space and into the idea of making art, and we're really hoping people who are more experienced experiment with these materials and viewers get the idea of art and activism," Molnar said.

Inviting the community to participate in the show was in part inspired by the community-based art projects of artist Candy Chang, Morenz said.

Some of those who came to participate in the open studio sessions were students preparing to spend the summer on Dartmouth's Big Green Bus who were looking for new and creative ways to teach sustainability, according to Morenz.

"I think a lot about who is alienated by sustainability because it's definitely been consumerized into the American diet," Meegan Daigler '14, who came to the galery to make art from recycled materials, said. "I don't think that sustainability should be alienating because the issues of sustainability are things that are affecting people across race and gender, and art is a very different mode of communication than numbers and stats so I'm interested in who you can reach."

Participants at the studio sessions generally expressed a belief that art and activism complement each other.

"I think that art, especially throughout history, has been used a lot to make people step back and think about society and choices and the way we treat other people," Amanda Wheelock '13 said. "I think that's also the main goal and spirit of activism in most places, so I think that they are often very intricately linked and I think that art can be used as a form of activism and vice versa."