Tag Archive: social justice

  1. Exhibit merges art and social justice

    Leave a Comment

    This October, the act of bridging the gap between Yale and the Elm City can go beyond just public outreach and community service.

    On Sunday, the Yale Humanist Community sponsored “Art as Social Justice,” an exhibit and panel discussion featuring seven Connecticut-based artists. The exhibit, which is on display in Silliman College’s Maya’s Room until early November, highlights the role of art as a tool for social activism and building movements. The panel also served as an opportunity to introduce the Green Light Project, a community-based initiative that focuses on creating stronger bonds between New Haven and Yale through the installation of a sculpture on the New Haven Green. The piece, which stands 17 feet high, has nine sides that represent the nine squares of the original New Haven Colony plan. The sculpture will be done in aluminum and plexiglass and will glow brighter as more people surround it.

    Chris Stedman, executive director of the Yale Humanist Community, said that he believes the sculpture has the potential to foster closer ties between the city and the University. He said that it celebrates Yale and the Elm City’s “shared humanity,” encouraging interpersonal relationships among all the city’s residents.

    “We hope that the seasonal interactive sculpture will create opportunities for people to stop, gather and connect with one another in the center of New Haven during a time of year that can feel challenging, even isolating, for so many,” Stedman said.

    Ted Salmon, owner of EWS 3-D — an architectural metal fabrication company — and the sculptor heading the Green Light Project, said he got inspiration for the images directly from the local community.

    Community building and representation were also themes central to the panelists’ works. Sculptor Eóin Burke raised questions about representing figures and bodies in his work through the “lens of privilege” as a white male. Arvia Walker discussed her photography, which features protesters in the Black Lives Matter movement. She emphasized her desire to “change and elevate” the narratives surrounding black and brown communities, something she hopes to do by documenting the movement’s children. Similarly, Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, who work with mixed media, created an interactive installment called “The Wave.” The project was intended to serve as an educational tool to raise awareness about the global water crisis.

    Painter Tracie Cheng noted that even pieces that do not overtly address social justice issues can take on meanings of their own separate from the artist.

    “I really enjoy seeing the amount of questions that come up when people look at my paintings. I like when they answer the questions themselves,” Cheng said. “In instances when they’re really struggling with something, they see so much more depth in my work than I can offer them.”

    Other artists agreed that the role of emotion is central when connecting to a broader audience. Walker said that emotion allows for the piece to become a catalyst in addressing a larger issue, adding that it invokes a human response within the viewer.

    Juancarlos Soto, a graphic designer, emphasized the universal quality art can take on when creating bonds and organizing movements. Soto, who moved to the U.S. from Puerto Rico when he was 16, initially struggled with English and communicated through drawing.

    “Often, when I couldn’t get what I wanted to say out, I would sketch it out. People could then understand what I was trying to say,” Soto said. “Art transcends language, and it amplifies our voices in ways that regular organizing can’t usually do. It’s also something that lasts much longer than the person who created it.”

    On Nov. 13, the Green Light Project will host a fundraising event featuring food from local restaurants and comedy followed by the conceptual unveiling of the interactive sculpture on the New Haven Green.

  2. Breaking the Fourth Wall: Activism at the Long Wharf

    Leave a Comment

    According to the American Public Health Association, the annual New Haven homicide rate has tripled in the past five years. Of the 20 New Haven homicides committed in 2013, half of the victims were under 24. But these statistics can’t encompass a single human life, let alone the many lost each year to gun violence. At best, the names of the New Haven victims, most of them young men of color, are headlines. At worst, they receive no public attention or collective respect. While today’s journalists shed light on racial tensions in America, they do little to commemorate individuals.

    But “brownsville song (b-side for tray),” now showing at the Long Wharf Theatre, does commemorate an individual, providing a fictional young black man with a voice.

    The main character, Tray, and his sister have lost their father to gun violence and their stepmother to addiction. With his passion for boxing, his interest in school and the support of his grandmother, Tray has a bright future. Unfortunately, he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and, like so many others, ends up as an empty space at the kitchen table.

    While thousands of families may share this story, “brownsvile” insists on making this a unique and personal narrative. Rather than speaking for all victims of gun violence, playwright Kimber Lee asks us to withhold judgment and take the time to understand the people behind the names.

    Instead of following a strictly linear plot, the play interweaves scenes from before and after Tray’s death. With this stylistic choice, Lee creates powerful relationships between characters and a compelling narrative arc. During a particularly poignant moment, I broke into tears. And then, seconds later, I began to laugh as Tray embarked on a hilarious and joyous monologue, one filled with hope.

    Catrina Ganey as Lena, Tray’s grandmother, gave one of the production’s best performances. During the talk-back, audience members called her the “perfect black grandmother”. She is sassy and compassionate, with a no-nonsense parenting style — Ganey brings the audience into Tray’s world.  While warning us from the onset that she is not the beginning of Tray’s story (since she wants her grandson to speak for himself), her love and devotion propel him through the narrative, and into our hearts.  She reminded me of my mother.

    In my time at Yale, I have seen a number of Long Wharf Theatre productions. I have probably seen more Long Wharf productions than 95 percent of the student body. However, this piece was the most powerful one I’ve seen to date, not just because of the story itself, acted out in an enclosed, dark theater, but because of the social justice movements operating beyond the theater’s walls. The Long Wharf  reached out to over 100 civic groups. Since tickets prices are a barrier between the arts and lower socio-economic groups, the theater provided tickets at reduced prices (as low as five dollars).  Children and families from across New Haven have been able to experience and relate to Tray’s story.   

    In other words, the Long Wharf Theatre brought together a wide array of people, from regular theater goers to those more familiar with Tray’s upbringing. “Brownsville” offers hope to all audience members, and a final message — a life cannot be assessed by its end. Tray was not just a headline, or a number. He was a brother, a grandson, a friend.