A new art exhibit at University of Wisconsin-Stout focuses on what justice means in America and asks viewers to be aware of their own biases.
The And Justice for All: Civil Liberties Art Exhibition is open through Friday, Oct. 29, at Gallery 209 in Applied Arts. The exhibit is open 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. Masks are required on campus.
The title of the exhibit refers to the final words of the Pledge of Allegiance. The juried show is part of interim director of art and art history department Professor Cynthia Bland’s Civil Liberties Research Fellowship last spring from the Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation.
“Although we’ve made so much progress as a nation, we still encounter instances of narrow mindedness and intolerance in our daily lives,” Bland wrote in the exhibition statement. “Artists have the responsibility to educate their public, to use their platform to change the fabric of America, and to push for a future where we are all more accepting, equitable and willing to protect others.”
Visual experiences are a big part of peoples’ lives and art can help educate people, Bland said. “We have had so many artists through time who have really made an impact,” she noted. “We hadn’t had this opportunity for students before.”
MCSII provided funding for four Best of Show awards to be awarded to students who have created new works of art. The award is from $400 to $100. A closing reception is planned at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at the gallery when the awards will be announced.
“We have eight new works of art on display, highlighting our students’ willingness to take risks to communicate important messages to their audience,” Bland said. “Accompanying these works are posters from the permanent collection of the Furlong Gallery. The posters range from whimsical to weighty, capturing the challenges artists and Americans have faced in preceding eras.”
Images highlight microaggressions
The gallery also features digital poster triptychs on display from design department Professor Nagesh Shinde’s spring 2021 Graphic Design II course. The students were asked to create visually dynamic images that highlight microaggressions, or thinly veiled derogatory insults that erode an individual’s sense of self-worth.
Microaggressions are commonplace, and oftentimes unintentional, but the result is the further marginalization of culturally or racially isolated groups, Bland noted.
Learn more about the poster project here.
One piece, “Educate, Liberate, Occupy,” was created by sophomore Jon Rosario, majoring in industrial design.
“(The) print seeks to initiate conversations about civil liberties – checking America about its perceived racial ‘excellence’ in the process,” Rosario said.
The background of the piece is a pattern filled with names of historical events in American history including those impacting Asians, African-Americans, native peoples, Latinx and LGBTQIA+ people.
“Not including descriptions of the events, viewers would need to do some investigation to truly understand the events behind the pattern, giving them the opportunity to learn and come to a conclusion for themselves, by themselves,” Rosario said.
“The goal with this was that if I could get people to educate themselves, then maybe they would educate one another, and we could liberate one another from these false narratives that we’ve been so used to believing. With that liberation then, we could then occupy the narrative, giving us a path to greater things, like defeating racism, homophobia and communal ignorance here on this campus.”
Director Tim Shiell said, “MCSII supports artistic endeavors illuminating civil liberty issues because art can express human ambitions and ideals in uniquely wonderful and powerful ways. UW-Stout has amazing art and design programs, and Professor Bland has done outstanding work throughout MCSII’s existence connecting art students to civil liberty issues. Too often civil liberty folks focus on student essay contests, the written word, so we want to support other avenues for students to connect to civil liberties.”
Standing up for art
Renee Carrell, Furlong Gallery assistant director and coordinator of Gallery 209, curated the exhibit and was part of the jury that selected artwork.
Alum Patrick Loftiness’ “Oh, Potus!,” a piece from the Furlong Gallery collection, depicts how former President Donald Trump was disliked by both Republicans and Democrats. To Carrell, it is a good example of freedom of expression. She believes Loftiness, who died in 2020, would be pleased his work was in a civil liberties exhibit.
“Art and comedy are usually the first casualties of freedom of speech,” Carrell said. “Art especially has been censored or destroyed throughout history when politics changed. Someone needs to stand up for our good friend, art.”
Rosario, of Ijamsville, Md., said the exhibit is interesting. “Overall, I think although it's not the largest exhibition, it does indeed do a good job of getting the conversation started. The pieces included are so thought-provoking, a great start to the conversation, I think the result will have a wonderful shot at being purposeful.”
In addition to Rosario’s work, other students who are part of the MCSII portion of the exhibit, and the name of their works are: Jordan Miinch, of Antigo, “America is Queer”; Ashton Musielewicz, of St. Paul, “I Know Myself”; Alice O’Brien, of Isanti, Minn., “Cycle”; Julia Phillips, of Glenville, Minn., “A Russian in America”; Katie Reeves, of Albertville, Minn., “I’ll Tread Right Back”; Ethan Scholz, of Brookfield, “Gagged,” John Leonard, "Saturn."
Other parts of Bland’s fellowship included a Free Speech Week student panel discussion on Confederate monuments and a student research fellow, Jake Mazourek, studying the Works Progress Administration murals by Cal Peters on campus.