Ushering in the Fall Arts Festival, a three day event focused on student creative practices and community-building, Kitao and Peripeteia hosted a discussion on Art and Power. The event brought together faculty members and students for a free-form conversation.
The weekend festival was the work of Kitao, a student group responsible for the gallery space and other art-related events. The festival spanned Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and included a variety of events from brunch time art workshops, to showcases of creative campus groups like Oasis and the college’s various comedy groups, to tours of different art exhibitions on campus.
“We just really wanted to bring attention to Kitao as an organization. A lot of people had expressed to us that they wanted more arts events on campus, and we thought this would be a great way to bring attention to our space,” said Collette Gerstmann ’18, one of the organizers of the weekend.
The prelude “ART AND POWER” was held in the intimate, eclectic environment of Kitao Art Gallery with light refreshments. Roughly 30 students sat in folding chairs with minimal separation from the faculty members who began the discussion.
“We wanted to create an informal space for people to gather and exchange ideas on a level playing field between professors and students,” said Gerstmann.
The panelists included Professors Jumatatu Poe, Erin Downey, Ron Tarver, and Sangina Patnaik, which presented perspectives from the dance, art history, studio art and English departments. Each professor was given time for a brief introduction, in which they could interpret the theme of art and power in any way they wanted to, then the floor was opened to questions from the audience.
“We wanted to keep the topic more broad because there were a lot of different perspectives being represented, and I think it worked out really well,” said Zoey Werbin ‘17, member of Peripeteia.
In her opening remarks, Visiting Assistant Professor Downey, an early modern art specialist, focused on examples of debasement of religious symbols in Europe.
“I kept coming to provocative examples of the destruction of art as an attempt to undermine power, but in a way that actually seems to assert the power of art and images,” she told the audience.
Professor Patnaik handed a copy of the short story “Account” to the audience, which develops a narrative through bank account charges. Patnaik, who does archival work, raised the issue of how the proliferation of data is used by systems to gain power.
“I’m interested in questions of the archive. One of the things about conflicts is that they tend to generate strong paper trails, and I’m interested in how literature engages with this,” she said.
Professor Tarver, who specializes in photojournalism, introduced himself by showing the audience two photographs. One was the famous photograph taken by Gordon Park, featuring FSA employee Ella Watson standing in front of an American flag, mimicking the painting American Gothic. The other was a photo taken by Stanley Forman at a busing protest, showing a man being attacked with an American flag.
“Neither of these photos were made as art, but both really speak to the power of photography and both transcend their time period. These pictures can speak to the conditions of race, class, and social order today,” said Tarver.
Professor Poe led the audience in a physical demonstration, in which everyone held their arms over their head for seven minutes. Poe explained that the action was part of a choreography he had developed in conjunction with Dancing for Justice Philadelphia, and explained that seven minutes was how long Eric Garner had been choked to death by the police in Staten Island.
“I wanted to really feel the effort of doing something for seven minutes,” said Poe.
“I liked how different all the professors’ opening statements were. Because we just told them they would have five minutes to set the tone however they wanted, they all chose very different paths,” said Werbin.
The discussion tackled a variety of issues pertaining to art, brought up by the faculty members. Students raised issues concerning self-archiving within queer communities, the pressure on artists to find ways to make a living, and the effect of social media on art. Towards the end, the faculty members began to respond directly to one another, and continued the conversation past the prelude’s official end.
“I really like Peripeteia’s discussion events,” said Maddy Feldman ’17, who attended the prelude. “These events get me excited to be at a liberal arts school, to have access to so many different perspectives. I’m really grateful to Peripeteia for putting them in conversation with each other.”
Overall, the festival provided a wide variety of creative outlets for students, which were well-appreciated.
“I was really excited that people were excited,” said Gerstmann. “We had this brunch event to kick off Saturday, and when we were trying to transition out of it, people stayed around and asked if we would do something like this again. It was fun and fulfilling to see people be excited that there was this art space.”