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Activism Through Art

May 9, 2016

Student-Driven Exhibition Explores Issues of Identity and Awareness
Compiled by Genny Beckman Moriarty

”What is it like to be _________ at Exeter?”

That was the driving question behind ”We All Bleed Red,” a unique student-led project during winter term that combined the arts with social activism. Presenting visual and textual works of art by Exeter students, the exhibit was displayed in the Academy Building basement adjacent to the Lamont Gallery.

The project was born out of senior Kevin Zhen’s desire to make an impact on the community that he refers to as a ”second home.” He lit upon the notion of using shared stories as a way to overcome cultural barriers and create a sense of belonging for students within Exeter’s diverse community. The idea resonated with his friends, Carissa Chen ’17 and Pranay Vemulamada ’16, who helped him to flesh out a plan and bring the project to life.

In her introductory remarks at the opening reception for ”We All Bleed Red,” Chen — an award-winning artist whose own work often explores issues of social justice — spoke about the power of art, language and stories to ”foster empathy and promote acceptance.” The trio felt the project was a chance to harness that power in a singular way. ”Art exhibitions offer a unique sense of community, celebration and intimacy. When Kevin approached me with the original concept, I thought it sounded like an amazing way to celebrate both our diversity and collective identity as Exonians,” Chen explains.

Organized around programming for Exeter’s MLK Day, the exhibit was part of an ongoing initiative by the Lamont Gallery to combine the arts with social awareness. Recent projects include ”Graphic Advocacy: International Posters for the Digital Age 2001-2012,” a traveling collection of posters designed to inspire social change. On view in the Lamont Gallery this spring is the student-curated ”Change Agents: Personal Art as Political Tactic,” featuring socially and politically engaged works from 40 contemporary artists. Read more about these exhibits.

"Speechless” Megan Smith ’16

I took this photo the day after a close family friend died. I was shocked into silence. Not knowing how to express in words what I was feeling, I turned to photography. I’ve grown with the image, and now it represents to me each word that goes unspoken due to my own fears and griefs.

”Carissa Wading in Waters” Carissa Chen ’17

This painting [is] in response to the fear I often carry while I’m at Exeter and loved ones back home are sick. The self-portrait was created after a close friend back home was diagnosed with cancer. Although I originally wanted to paint her, she asked not to be photographed and so I decided instead to paint a self-portrait of my experience watching her in pain. In this self-portrait, I use cool colors and dark tones to create the sense of weight. The jar I’m holding looks reminiscent of a funeral urn, and when she looks at her reflection in the rising water, her face is obscured or missing.


Excerpted from ”Political Perspectives,” a series of interviews conducted by Pranay Vemulamada ’16 and Kevin Zhen ’16

”I don’t believe in certainty. I don’t believe in having inflexible political views — I tend to keep an open mind. And you know what most motivates me in any type of political/ideological discussion is trying to question things — like look, there might be a different way to look at [this]. And sometimes that puts me in a position in which I end up opposing people of liberal points of view, and sometimes I end up opposing people with conservative points of view, and I’m not really sure where I stand on these issues — I just want [people] to have an open mind to the other side of the discussion.” – Antonio Silveira Guanaes Gomes ’16. Photo by Zhen.

"Days of Dew” Nada Zohayr ’17

In this piece, two hands are being displayed in front of a blue background. The left hand is adorned with bracelets and nail polish while the right is decorated in henna and is holding prayer beads. The blue background holds the text of Arabic poems written in both their traditional Arabic and in translated English.

As a Middle Eastern woman growing up in America, my options are limited. I can either be the loud American or the devoted Muslim. If I choose one, I am shunned away by my family and the rich culture that has raised me. If I choose the other, I am labeled as ”oppressed” and ”backward” by the society of the country that I love. … I have not found the perfect medium. … But I am still looking.

”Untitled” Cam Rider ’16

Finding true success in today’s society has become about as difficult as mastering modern archery. The pursuit of prosperity now requires a nearly unparalleled level of skill and experience. … Except there’s always something you can’t account for. Just when you think that the world is in your hands, some force of probability, a gust of wind or an involuntary twitch of muscle, sends your arrow clattering against the rocks or buries it inches-deep into a tree trunk. … Either way, you haven’t just lost that aluminum, plastic-feathered projectile — you’ve lost your life. … Perhaps there’s another alternative, to stop now. You can’t control the forces of nature or predict every aspect of the future, so why would you? You have yourself — the most powerful machine in the universe, as far as you know or care — and a mind that can control time.

”Grassroots” CooXooEii Black ’16

I love the serendipity of photography. [The series of photos that I submitted to this exhibit] were taken in the Denver area. I just walked the streets and found inspiration in what I saw. ... The photo of the lady smoking is my grandma at a family barbecue. I carried my camera and took pictures, trying to capture the essence and beauty of these moments.