Artists aiming to ignite social change through exhibit

Students walk the exhibit by artist Melissa Joseph as part of the “Contemporary Victims of Violence and Voids” on Oct. 11. The event included a panel discussion about violence in communities of all sizes.

By Jessica Hergert

Students, faculty and members of the community filled the Cavalla Room in the Bart Luedeke Center on Oct. 11 for a powerful and unique presentation called “Contemporary Victims of Violence and Voids.” There was also a panel discussion to celebrate the annual Unity Day at Rider.

Attendants were asked to wear black as a sign of solidarity and respect for those who lost their lives to violence.Purple ribbons symbolizing domestic violence awareness were given out to everyone prior to the show.

“Unity Day provides an opportunity for our students, faculty, staff and our community to come together and celebrate the diverse elements that make up the Rider community,” said DonnaJean Freeden, provost and vice president of academic affairs.

The event kicked off the year-long Rider Shared Read program that encourages students to engage in meaningful discussion about a piece of literature. This year’s freshman class read the autobiographical novel “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.

“Contemporary Victims of Violence and Voids” showcased an innovative project collaboration between artists Melissa Joseph and Triton Mobley that also connects with the themes of discrimination, segregation and violence found in “Born a Crime.”

Mobley took the stage first. A Los Angeles native pursuing his doctorate degree at the University of Southern California (USC), Mobley is an artist and technologist focusing on speculative design.

He found himself particularly curious about the idea of safe spaces using South Side, Chicago and the USC campus as references. Though the populations of both are similar in number, the amount of violent deaths in Chicago is immense compared to the few freak incidents that have occurred at USC.

“[In] communities large and small, [we] meet our loved ones, we attend school, we attend church — [those communities] should be deemed as safe as a college campus,” Mobley said.

Mobley’s project takes the physical outline of Chicago communities and juxtaposes them over USC’s campus. Those who get the year-long subscription to the program will receive alerts of gun violence in Chicago but will be able to see where they would have occurred had they happened on campus.

“We tend to forget about [gun violence issues] when they don’t affect us directly,” said Mobley. “This is about remembrance and about maintaining a connection to [American communities].”

Joseph, an artist from Philadelphia, took the stage next to introduce her haunting painting series titled “Voids.”

“I decided to make work that would have an impact on my community,” she said, referencing her early art. After struggling to find her niche, she began focusing on honoring victims of violence by creating sculptures out of heavy materials to represent the heaviness they bring to her heart.

Realizing that sculptures take a long time to complete and wanting to reach a wide audience quickly, Joseph moved to paintings. She began painting the spaces, or “voids,” victims leave behind. Using Google images or even crime scene photos, she paints streets, buildings and sidewalks, trying to capture the emptiness that results from a person’s death.

“The goal is to try to encourage a change in the structures that allow this to happen,” Joseph said. “Sometimes it seems like we can’t make a difference as individuals with such a big struggle in our society, but I am here to hopefully inspire you to think that maybe you can because I believe I can.”

Following Joseph’s speech, the panel assembled for a Q&A session led by senior English major John Modica. The panel, which tackled difficult questions about violence, included Joseph; Evelyn McDowell, associate professor of accounting; Amber Reeves, junior English major; Brea Rivera, sophomore behavioral neuroscience major; and Todd Weber, biology department chair.

Audience members expressed their concern with the Rider community, suggesting that many people shy away from potentially uneasy topics like racism.

Following the discussion, sophomore musical theater major Patrice Hrabowskie and senior public relations major Janay Barkley sang “What the World Needs Now” and “We Are the World.” The moving songs accompanied a unity candle-lighting ceremony honoring those lost to violence. Together, they showed the power of the Rider community to come together.

 

Printed in the 10/18/17 edition.

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