A Weekend to Remember: NUCHR’s 14th Annual Undergraduate Conference on Human Rights

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By: Cary Chapman

It all started innocently enough: an email in my Barnard inbox. Now, kids, don’t try this at home, but I opened the email even though I didn’t recognize the sender. Fortunately for me, it was benign—better than benign—I was introduced to the Northwestern University Community for Human Rights (NUCHR) and encouraged to apply to their annual conference in Evanston and Chicago, Illinois. Each year, the undergraduate group has a new angle that informs the exploration of human rights and this year, that theme was art. Best of all? Food, lodging, and the conference itself were entirely paid for. Flash forward a few months, and I was on a plane to O’Hare to join 46 other delegates from colleges around the country.

I knew the conference would be fun, and I had done a little research into the speakers, so I knew it would be interesting, but I was not prepared for the sheer emotional weight that comes with interrogating human rights issues through the artistic lens. As many of my media-consuming peers can perhaps relate, I have a tendency to become desensitized to the various cruelties humans inflict on one another in astounding volume and frequency. Another headline, another body count. Continued exposure to this type of news (aka most news) can seem almost pointless because there is no way to absorb it all, no way to fully empathize with so many people so rapidly.

So going into the conference, I was aware of issues like capital punishment and the AIDs crisis, access to arts education and hate crimes. But I think my awareness was a rational one. I don’t think I emotionally understood these topics to their deepest, darkest cores. I did not fully comprehend, for example, what it feels like have your brother, your Vietnam-vet, purple-hearted, PTSD-afflicted and yes, guilty brother, killed by the government. I still don’t fully comprehend that experience because I have not lived it, but after crying over Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman’s animated documentary “Last Day of Freedom,” I can at least feel a small portion of that unspeakable pain. As Bill says in the movie, it’s easy to support or be indifferent to the death penalty when it’s someone else’s brother at the other end of the needle. “Last Day of Freedom” makes capital punishment immediate and raw; it reveals state-sanctioned murder for the deep injustice it is.

Before the conference, I had never heard from anyone who had experienced a violent hate crime for being gay and loving to draw. Daniel Arzola turned the horrific experiences of his youth and took action through what he calls “artivism.” Artivism is exactly what it sounds like: activism through art. With his beautiful graphic images of all sorts of couples and individuals dazzling the eye in bright colors and patterns, Arzola offers up the campaign “No soy tu chiste” (I am not a joke) as a counter-narrative to homophobia and transphobia. Other slogans taken from Arzola’s poetry to accompany the images include “Coming out is my process not yours,” “You don’t have to be the cause to defend the cause,” and “My sexuality is not a trend your ignorance seems to be.” Arzola’s artwork is essential, powerful, and reproducible; he works with digital formats so that his images can never be destroyed as his drawings once were.

I could go on and on about the people we heard from and the places we visited, but this article would become a research paper, and it’s too early in the semester for that kind of commitment. So I will just offer up one more example: the AIDs Art America exhibit. Compiling years of pieces about AIDs by artists who had experienced the illness, the exhibit is a rigorous exploration of one of the American psyche’s most terrifying health catastrophes. AIDs Art America was a transformative experience in a way that most art, for me at least, simply is not. I found myself confronted head-on with the injustices of the medical, social, and political realities of AIDs in the 1980s. The pain of the disease and the transcendent beauty of love thriving in spite of that pain were laid out for me in visual form. The curator who gave our group a tour of the exhibit elucidated the depth and context of the artistic expressions on display, and I found myself astonished at the efficiency and power with which Death was communicated to the viewer. As a component of a human rights conference, the AIDs Art America exhibit was incredibly powerful, heartbreakingly beautiful, and palpably tragic. It was like being hit in the face with mortality. At one point, I remember feeling physically ill—dizzy and short of breath, with a kind of incessant blurriness to my vision and hearing—as I looked at some of the images and contemplated the ghosts behind them.

It was the kind of weekend that made me examine my life and wonder how I could live it better. I’m still wrestling with what to do with what I’ve learned, but I do feel a renewed commitment to writing as my art form, as well as an urgent need to practice active listening and create space for others to tell their stories. Before NUCHR, I had only a vague sense of the power of art to create positive change in the world and emotional change within myself. The world is a scary and sad place sometimes, and the conference certainly reflected that reality. But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. If I had to summarize the most uplifting parts of my experience at NUCHR, it would be that art is an incredible tool to affirm the right of oppressed people to exist, speak, take up space, and be human beings in the world.

In addition to those I mentioned above, I encourage everyone to check out the artists and activists below. Their work is truly an inspiration, and many more amazing people who presented at the conference can be found here. It was a challenge not to include everyone in this list, but in the interest of brevity, here are just a few:

  •     Kevin Coval, artistic director of Young Chicago Authors and Louder Than A Bomb poetry festival, poet, and community builder.
  •     Frank Buffalo Hyde, painter whose work draws on pop culture as it intersects with Native American identity.
  •     Michael Ray Charles, painter who appropriates images of African American stereotypes from the Antebellum South, advertising, and pop culture to expose the underlying racism of modern culture and skewer the false romantic myth of the Old South.
  •     Sylvia Gonzalez, artist and educator who uses zines to address police violence, labor rights, imagination, play, freedom, and confinement with young people in Chicago.

Cary Chapman is a junior and a writer for Barnard Bite.

Visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Museum

By Cary Chapman

“It’s true! Yes, I have been ill, very ill. But why do you say that I have lost control of my mind, why do you say that I am mad?”

These opening lines of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell Tale Heart” plunge the reader into a story that horrifies not with a zombie apocalypse or goblins or anything overtly supernatural. Rather, it’s a tale of psychological terror—of guilt so intense that a murderer hears the beating heart of his victim buried beneath the floorboards. Before Freud was even born, Poe was a master of delving deep into the human subconscious, bringing his readers along for the dark and twisted ride. Poe’s tortured protagonists make you wonder… who was this man?

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Here I am smiling dorkily at the Poe shrine.

When I, literature nerd extraordinaire, visited to the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia this winter break, I was amazed at the series of eerie tragedies that occurred one after another for all forty years of Poe’s life. There are too many to repeat here, but indulge me for one of the most sinister.

As a young man, Poe was secretly engaged to a woman named Sarah Elmira Royster. Her father disapproved of the union, and Sarah married another man to become Sarah Elmira Shelton. Poe went on to marry his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, in 1836. She died at the age of 24 of tuberculosis in a Bronx cottage that you can visit today. But Poe never forgot his first love and when Sarah Elmira was widowed, she and Poe became engaged—in 1849.

Here’s where things get freaky: On September 27, 1849, Poe left Richmond for New York. He was a literary celebrity at this point, so the trip makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is what happened next: Poe never made it to New York. On October 3, 1849, he was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. Four days later, on October 7, Poe died. Think about that for a second: writer, widow, and orphan Edgar finally gets engaged to his childhood sweetheart, only to die before the wedding under mysterious circumstances in a city not his own. It’s a fitting end if there ever was one for the king of the macabre—Poe’s life ended in delirium.

It’s true! Yes, he was ill, very ill. Had he lost control of his mind? Do you say that he is mad?

The museum does a great job of layering stories of Poe’s life with the stories in his work, crafting a nuanced portrait of a complex man. We meet the jock who swam six miles in the James River, a feat that has never been repeated. Here we see the orphaned son of Boston actors sent to live with the Allan family in Richmond. There’s the lover, the critic, and the man who wrote the first modern detective story, haunting lyrical poetry, morbid satire, and theories of the cosmos. Oh, and the chilling psychological horror stories for which he is most known.

Physically located in the oldest house in Richmond, the museum is not Poe’s home, but a building nonetheless rich with history. It is a fitting setting for artifacts like Poe’s boyhood bed, his white silk vest, and portraits of influential people in his life. Two black cats roam a courtyard the museum calls The Enchanted Garden, whose brick pathways are made from pieces of the Southern Literary Messenger building where Poe worked for two years.

In addition to the traditional biographical information, the museum also offers artistic interpretations of Poe’s work, a Poe shrine, and a particularly bizarre and wonderful room whose sole purpose is to offer context for the satirical short story “Some Words with a Mummy.” I’ll let you read it for yourself, but let me just give you a teaser. A group of scientists unwrap a mummy whose name is Allamistakeo. He comes to life with the help of a little electricity, engages in conversation with the scientists, and ends up resolutely unimpressed with all modern technology and innovation—with the exception of the cough drop.

I highly recommend this museum and I will conclude my review by answering a question I know is burning on all of your minds: yes, you can have your wedding here.

 

Cary Chapman is a junior and a writer for Barnard Bite.

Books to Read in the Last Week of Break

By Allison Yeh

When you are Traveling

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Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller is perfect for traveling as 1) It can easily be found in an airport kiosk, and 2) the novel moves so fast you will never want to put it down!

When You are at Home with the Whole Family

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If you are starting to think your family is driving you crazy, pick up The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls then reassess the situation.

When All You Can Think About Is Food

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Written with sensual details that will most definitely leave you salivating, Muriel Barbery’s Gourmet Rhapsody explores the world of a famous food critic who is searching for the best meal before he dies.

When You Don’t Have Much Time but Want to Still Read

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Self-Help by Lorrie Moore is a compilation of short stories that incorporate both humor and emotional acuity. As each story touches on a different topic, this book is perfect if you have to keep picking it up and putting it down.

When You Just Aren’t In The Mood

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Geoff Dyer in his book of personal essays, Yoga For People Who Can’t Be Bothered To Do It, satirizes his helplessness in various situations to keep you laughing. And trust me, you will laugh.

Allison Yeh is a Sophomore at Barnard and Lead Features Editor for Barnard Bite.

Breathe, Scream, Ice Cream: Navigating Stress During Finals

Let’s be honest—your midterms have overstayed their welcome, your fuse is running short, and no matter how much food you ate over Thanksgiving, you still can’t help but think about your schedule, your homework, and most of all, your finals. My first word of advice, however, is not to stress. (I know, it’s much easier said than done.) But hopefully these tips will help you realize that know that it’s not only okay to be stressed, but also to let yourself mitigate that stress every once in a while.  

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Popping the Bubble Week 8: 13.1 (s)miles

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By Sinead Hunt

This weekend, while my peers were busy gorging themselves on turkey and binge-watching Gilmore Girls, I was off running a half-marathon. Running a half-marathon has been a long-term goal of mine, and I was elated to finally have the opportunity to check this item off my list. The half-marathon I ran took place in the sleepy town of Pelham, which, incidentally, is incredibly small, only 2.1 square miles in size. Therefore, the half-marathon course was extremely complicated, with many twists and turns. However, the course was well marked, and there were plenty of volunteers to direct the runners. The town’s enthusiasm for this event, as evidenced by the sheer number of volunteers and spectators, was incredibly impressive. Along the way, I was cheered on by tons of Pelham residents, and I was thankful for their words of encouragement, as every step past mile 9 was sheer agony.

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Although the course was very difficult, with many steep hills, I did finish with a time of 1 hour and 57 minutes, placing first in the Women’s 19 and Under Division. Ultimately, it was a great experience, and I feel very glad to have participated.

Sinead Hunt is  a first-year at Barnard and Liaison for Barnard Bite.

Black Mastry

By Olivia Nathan

Kerry James Marshall’s retrospective at the MET Breuer, rightly titled “Mastry”, is a collection of his earliest and latest figural paintings which continue to focus on the African-American experience. In the beginning of his college career at the prestigious Los Angeles art school, Otis, Marshall painted “A Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of His Former Self”. Displayed in the first room of the exhibition, the canvas is completely black and burnt umber except for a pair of white eyes, a smile of missing teeth, and a shirt collar. At first glance, the small portrait is disturbing in its evocation of blackface and racist cartoon, but becomes gentle and sad the longer you look.

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Small Pin-up (Finger Wag) (2013)

Painting, 76.2 X 60.96 cm.

Materials: acrylic, pvc

Photo courtesy of M HKA Ensembles

 

 

The exhibit moves with Marshall through his development into an authoritative and continuously conversational painter. The middle of the show hosts a collection of selected pieces from the MET’s archives which Marshall studied and emulated while at Otis. The pieces range from Ingres and Holbein to deKooning, Jacob Lawrence, Japanese woodblocks, and African sculpture. The display of vastly different works in the same space, essentially an exhibition within an exhibition, raises endless questions about how to connect a dead white man’s oil portrait to an African Dan mask.

In the next room hung perhaps Marshall’s most classically influenced 2012 work “School of Beauty School of Culture”. Set in a vibrant, shiny beauty salon filled with gleaming, too-glamorous black women and their children, Marshall paints himself into the piece in one of the mirrors but hides his face with a camera flash. The photo-ready women look directly out at the artist and viewers, unaware of the crooked head of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty hovering above the tiled floor of the foreground and outlined in glitter. The allusions to Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” and Hans Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” puts Marshall in conversation with traditional, revered art, while at the same time inserting a traditionally unseen subject: the African-American woman.

Although enamoured with the majority of his paintings, I found my favorite in one of the last rooms– “Small Pin-up (Finger Wag) (2013)”. In accordance with the rest of his works, the female figure’s skin tone is darker than the background with almost imperceptible gradations of black in her face. She stands in a lace bra and G-string, hand on hip and her other hand with one finger in the air, wagging. As I smiled up at her, a woman beside me turned to her companion and said, “An amazing exhibition of social commentary.” But it is not– Marshall paints black domestic life with subtle deftness and produces figures like my pin-up crush. She does not comment on her marginalized role in fine art; she simply takes her rightful place in it.

The MET Breuer is located at 945 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10021, Kerry James Marshall retrospective until January 29, 2017

Olivia Nathan is a junior at Barnard and an Opinion Editor at Barnard Bite.

 

Popping the Bubble Week 7: Our Presidential History

By Sinead Hunt

This week I had the distinct pleasure of visiting a New York City landmark that has been on my list for quite some time: the New York Historical Society. Typically, tickets for students can be quite pricey ($12 with student ID). However, on Friday nights from 6 to 8 p.m., the Historical Society runs a promotion where visitors can enter for a “suggested donation.” Thus, with only a crinkled dollar bill to spare, I was able to gain admittance into this amazing New York resource.

My favorite exhibit of the night was definitely, “Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960-1972: Selections from the Museum of Democracy.” This collection of political memorabiliap1 allows visitors to experience firsthand the highly contentious presidential campaigns of
the 1960’s. All in all, I found the items in the collection to be highly entertaining. From Richard Nixon’s many poorly-worded campaign slogans, including, “Click with Dick!” and “My Pick is Dick,” to cigarette packages proudly displaying Nixon’s face, I found myself stifling my laughter as I meandered about the exhibit. Though the collection was, without a doubt, incredibly funny, it was at the same time both informative and captivating. I believe that the political paraphernalia displayed in this collection affords visitors a unique insight into political zeitgeist of the 1960’s.

The first presidential race discussed in this exhibit was the election of 1960. As tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union continued to escalate, American voters were faced with the decision to elect either seasoned vice-president Richard Nixon, or the charming one-term senator, John F. Kennedy. The advent of the televised debate proved decidedly important in the election of 1960. Over seventy-seven million Americans tuned in to watch the presidential debate from the comfort of their own homes. Kennedy excelled during the debate, looking right into the camera in order to provide a sense of intimacy with the viewership. Nixon, however, floundered on camera. He refused to wear stage makeup, and the bright lights of the set made him sweat excessively, so that he came across to voters as extremely nervous. Ultimately, the televised debate highlighted one of Nixon’s greatest weaknesses as a candidate: his complete lack of charisma. As a p2result, much of the political paraphernalia produced by the Nixon campaign aimed to portray their candidate as personable (hence, the awkwardly phallic campaign slogans).
The second campaign examined in this exhibit was the election of 1964, which was a veritable tete-a-tete between incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson and Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. Johnson, who had vowed to “build a great society” upon his ascension to the presidency in 1963, ran on a campaign promising greater social programs. Johnson defiantly declared a “war on poverty,” and sought to create a better society for all Americans, regardless of  race, creed, culture, or socioeconomic class. Republicans struggled to unite behind candidate Barry Goldwater. In particular, Goldwater’s decision to oppose the 1964 Civil Right’s Act alienated many moderate Republicans. Goldwater’s many off the cuff remarks regarding liberalism, as well as his vehement emphasis on states’ rights, portrayed him as an extremist. In p3response to Goldwater’s campaign slogan, “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right,” the Johnson campaign countered with the incisively witty comeback, “In Your Gut You Know He’s Nuts.” Ultimately, the American people’s perception of LBJ as a moderate candidate proved invaluable in helping him to be elected.

The 1968 presidential race featured, once again, Richard Nixon, as well as LBJ’s vice-president, Hubert Humphrey. Though Nixon had already lost the presidency once, by 1968 the general tone of American politics had been completely transformed. Voters, disenchanted by America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, increasingly resented Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson’s withdrawal from the race offered a way for three contenders: anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy, vice-president Hubert Humphrey and, the one and only Richard Nixon. While Hubert Humphrey ran a campaign that boasted the accomplishments of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, Nixon’s campaign invoked imagesp4 of burning American cities. In response to the race riots proceeding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s tragic death, Nixon ran on a “law and order” campaign, capitalizing on the racially-motivated fear many Americans secretly harbored (sound familiar to anyone?). Nixon’s criticism of federal civil rights legislation resonated with many White Southerners, and his favorability among the “silent majority” undeniably helped him to secure success in such a close race.

Ultimately, I believe that this exhibit is incredibly important, even now more than ever (incidentally Nixon’s campaign slogan in the 1972 race). The political climate in the United States is a pendulum, constantly oscillating between conservatism and liberalism. Though Nixon initially lost to liberal p5candidate John F. Kennedy, he was later able to gain two consecutive terms in office. The 1960’s were an incredibly turbulent time in American history. Between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the forced desegregation of public schools, many Americans resented the government for forcing them to comply with social policies they didn’t necessarily believe in. Many Americans secretly harbored racially-motivated fears, which were further exacerbated by the racial riots following the assassination of Dr. King. This “silent majority,” who felt that the government had betrayed them and their interests, and that their opinions were no longer valued, found their champion in Richard Nixon. In this way, the past forestalls the future, as Donald Trump capitalized on many similar sentiments to win the presidency in the 2016 race.

Image Courtesy of Sinead Hunt

Sinead Hunt is  a first-year at Barnard and Liaison for Barnard Bite.