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Art conversation to focus on equity and inclusion at UB

By BERT GAMBINI

Published April 8, 2016

“Art has the potential to find points of connection among people and thus can help to solve pressing social problems.”
Jonathan Katz, associate professor and chair
Department of Art

The Department of Art will present “Art Talk Back: Race, Gender, Sexuality and Inclusion,” a collective conversation addressing questions of equity and inclusion on campus, at 4 p.m. April 14 in 215 Student Union North Campus.

“The spur for this event was Ashley Powell’s ‘Our Compliance’ project,” says Jonathan Katz, associate professor and chair of the Department of Art. “The response to that project indicated that there are underlying tensions that need to be addressed.”

Last September, Powell, a UB graduate student, posted a series of “White Only,” “Black Only” signs beside water fountains and bathrooms on the North Campus as part of an art project designed to get people talking and thinking about racism.

Art Talk Back is an opportunity to see and appreciate art as an open medium, embracing a range of perspectives, according to Katz.

He says Art Talk Back is not a panel discussion. The setting, in fact, will be in the round, with chairs arranged in concentric circles to encourage an informed dialog guided by facilitators who will discuss the history of African-American representations in the visual arts and literature.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for a university community of varying and diverging opinions to express itself,” says Katz. “Art is the sphere in which we can most effectively have these kinds of difficult and nuanced conversations.”

In addition to Katz and Powell, scheduled facilitators include:

  • John Jennings, associate professor of graphic design in the Department of Art and a noted graphic novelist whose work deals with issues of race.
  • Lakisha Simmons, assistant professor in the Department of Transnational Studies, an expert in African-American gender history and black gender studies, whose book “Crescent City Girls: The Lives of Young Black Women in Segregated New Orleans” was published last year by the University of North Carolina Press.
  • Stacey Robinson, a local artist whose subject matter examines the African-American experience.

Following the discussion, attendees will be given arts supplies and instructions to create renderings for display that express their personal feelings.

“Art has the potential to find points of connection among people and thus can help to solve pressing social problems,” says Katz. “It’s not just about the aesthetic. As we practice art at UB, it is very much engaged and very much an aspect of social change.”

Art Talk Back’s theme follows in the spirit of the university’s DIFCON series. UB faculty members lead DIFCON’s group discussions to engage participants in “difficult conversations” that can provide new perspectives and deeper understanding to sensitive topics.

So far this semester, DIFON topics have included:

  • Why the backlash against #BlackLivesMatter?
  • What does diversity mean to you?
  • Going to school in a segregated city
  • Off to college, but how do you pack up your religion?