‘#InHonor’ publicizes national race issues

By Campus Reporter

Photos and names of individuals who lost their lives in nationally recognized incidents protested by the Black Lives Matter movement—including Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant—line the “#InHonor” alumni exhibition.

The exhibit, which debuted on Sept. 6 and runs until Oct. 7 at the C33 gallery in the 33 E. Congress Parkway Building, was created and arranged by artist Ervin A. Johnson, 2012 photography alumnus. 

Sophomore journalism major and exhibit attendee Naquesha Richardson felt a deep connection to “#InHonor” because it included personal narratives similar to  Sandra Bland’s, another publicized death protested by Black Lives Matter. 

The powerful message of the artwork reminded Richardson that she belongs  to the same organization as Sandra Bland had, the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, before her death in police custody at the age of 28, she said.

Bland’s story made national headlines and sparked controversy after she was pulled over by police July 10, 2015, for failing to use a turn signal. She was arrested and found dead in her jail cell. Richardson did not know Bland personally but her sorority was impacted by the incident.

“[Sigma Gamma Rho has] been partnering with [Bland’s] mother [by conducting] community awareness seminars on what to do when you get stopped by the police,” Richardson said.

Johnson said his artistic process included painting over photographs to give texture and highlight  key points. He designed “#InHonor” around social activism to raise awareness about racism, discrimination and police brutality.

Johnson said the hashtag in the exhibition’s title—tied to many modern social movements, including Black Lives Matter—plays a key role in the gallery.

“This movement is happening not only out in the streets where people are marching, but also mobilizing via social media,” Johnson said. “I thought this work could be a part of that, with the sharing of the images and contributing to the discussion at large.”

Haydee Souffrant, project coordinator of the Department of Exhibitions, Performance and Student Spaces, worked closely with Johnson.

“Within the political climate we’re living in today, it is important to be able to see artists, especially young artists, using their work to really challenge the landscape [and] discuss the traumas and experiences of communities that are often times triggered by racial and social injustice,” Souffrant said.

Souffrant added that “#InHonor” shows that students artwork can be tied to political issues and still be featured in a fine art gallery.

One of the goals of the exhibition was to be inclusive of all people and their opinions, Johnson said.

“With my work, especially with this series, I’m trying to incorporate the regular person who sometimes doesn’t feel like this is a space for them,” Johnson said. “A lot of people I deal with don’t feel like they can participate in conversations about fine art or enjoy going to galleries.”

Johnson said the constant display of shootings and deaths on television and social media, coupled with a lack of response from the public, prompted him to create his work to generate change.

Richardson said Johnson’s work has potential to inspire students to create projects that advocate their own cause. 

“This kind of gave me an idea for something I would like to do in my own community,” Richardson said.

This reaction from Richardson is the response Johnson said he hoped his work would generate, he said.

“I’ve sat here for eight weeks, watched all types of people walk by and seen their reactions,” Johnson said. “There was one time where a group of black toddlers walked by and they pointed up at the portraits and their faces lit up. What my work is about at its core—not just this series, but everything—is representation.”

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