Casts of trees, black-and-white photography and colorful paintings were the focus of a human rights-themed talk at the Yale University Art Gallery on Thursday.
The event, “Despite Everything: Contemporary Art Students and International Human Rights,” drew approximately 40 Yale students and community members. It was held as part of JUNCTURE, a yearlong initiative in art and human rights through the Schell Center at the Yale Law School. JUNCTURE was conceptualized over the summer of 2014 to address broad questions about art, ethics and human rights. In April 2015, JUNCTURE accepted applications for research fellows, who were then awarded summer funding to travel to various locations of interest and create art. Of the five MFAs that were selected, three attended the event to discuss their work and speak on a panel. David Kim, JUNCTURE’s deputy director and curator, moderated the discussion. He said JUNCTURE’s work will continue next year with speakers planned for the fall semester.
“You don’t have to be an expert to be a witness to suffering,” said Eddie Aparicio ART ’16, one of the featured artists.
Aparicio’s work took him to El Salvador, then back to his hometown in Los Angeles. A painting and printmaking student, his art uses trees to record situations that pertain to human rights.
His artwork was driven by an interest in how the indigenous people of El Salvador — where his family is from — and Guatemala farm rubber. He said rubber farming in the region is now being taken over by factories. He added that he visited Guatemalan factories, requesting rubber samples and asking questions about the workers’ safety.
After shifting his focus to his own neighborhood, he returned to Los Angeles to cast molds of trees, which he said represent witnesses of gang violence. He noted that evidence of graffiti on the trees sometimes shows up in the molds.
“[The art] became an echoing of how I think of graffiti as people trying to have a voice that are disenfranchised,” Aparicio said.
Although he hopes that later in his career he can “branch out” into more political commentary, Aparicio said he is currently focused on learning about the world through research and creating his art.
In Asmara, Eritrea, Eli Durst ART ’16 captured photographs of people and buildings. After befriending Eritrean immigrants who his mother worked with, he became interested in Eritrea’s colonial history and the human rights violations its people face. According to Durst, these violations include indefinite military conscription and a lack of freedom of the press.
His art focuses on the relationships between people and the landscapes they inhabit. Durst explained that he does not see himself as a photojournalist and he feels he has “no claim on objective truth.”
“I felt a pretty intense guilt for not being an immigration lawyer, for not being in a field that can really tangibly effect people,” Durst said. “I still feel guilty.”
Tomashi Jackson ART ’16 focused her art on violence in Houston. She utilized video, photography and painting to explore power structures and police brutality in America.
Part of her work included reenacting “stress positions” — the positions Black teenage girls arrested last summer in McKinney, Texas, were placed in during heated interactions with the police. She originally intended to act out the scenes with white artists where the original interactions between the police and Black teenagers occurred. But she abandoned the idea out of safety concerns following the controversy surrounding 2015 arrest and death of Sandra Bland.
Jackson explained that while reviewing the risk assumption forms her peers needed to go abroad, she noted that she felt her safety was equally jeopardized.
“All the language about what could happen in another country is very accurate for the United States right now,” she said.
The YUAG opened in 1953.