FARGO — An exhibit at North Dakota State University’s Memorial Union Gallery is echoing feelings of unease around the world.
The juried show, “Unrest,” features work from international artists as well as views from North Dakota and Minnesota.
The gallery hosts a juried exhibition every other year, usually on the theme of social justice. This past summer, it put the word out that it was looking for works on the themes of protest and discord.
Submissions came from across the globe and were juried by Lauren Tate Baeza, director of exhibitions for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
The results are profound and sometimes provocative, says Anthony Faris, gallery coordinator.
“It’s not overtly political,” he says. “We wanted to gather and talk about the topics. It’s a beautiful opportunity to have conversations and develop a space for that. Galleries are for storytellers. People utilize art as a tool to connect culture and history and what people are thinking.”
Some of the stories told, or shown, are gripping.
Sri Loganathan, a photographer in India, documents activists on the country’s streets, from the hopeful image of a young girl holding a candle to a harrowing shot of an older woman being pushed and obstructed by unseen forces.
“There’s a new era, we’re seeing better representation and a lot of leadership by women and young people in protests,” Faris says.
He looks at the latter image, “Rebel to Exist,” and it leaves him shaken.
“To see someone my mother’s age pushed up against a fence is very powerful and very haunting,” he says.
Haunting is also a good word to describe Prosper Aluu’s painting, “Faith.”
The realistic image depicts a single eye, wide open, looking out from a hole in a dark material. While only one eye is depicted, the expression is one of horror. Is the subject looking out while being held captive, or looking in on some horrifying act? Or both? Aluu’s home, Nigeria, has been in the news for struggling with its own elite police force being accused of brutalizing civilians.
Closer to home, the Black Lives Matter movement is depicted by American photographers, including Fargo’s Anastasia de Celle, and her shot of a sign from a summer protest in Island Park that reads, “White Silence = White Violence.”
America’s roots of racism are traced back in Bri Murphy’s ceramic bust of the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson. The Grand Forks artist used a 3D printer to build the ceramic sculpture and chose not to refine the visage, still identifiable as that of the founding father and slaveholder.
Faris says the appearance is similar to that of looking at an image on a pixelated screen.
“People have stopped understanding history in long form, but only short snippets and they’re losing context,” he says. “This speaks to the confusion and not being able to understand the character of this person.”
That notion of missing out on history is driven home in Chris Revelle’s installation, “A Letter for Sonia Sanchez,” a nod to the poet and educator, an influential force in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and '70s.
The artist sent a list of book titles, all on the subject of slavery and colonialism, to be checked out from a library. The books are then stacked and cinched together with a ratchet strap.
“In one way it talks about the access to information. It’s also weirdly about taking away access, because by checking out a book, no one else has access to it,” Faris says. “It’s a very powerful and interesting piece.”