Life + Arts

Art show zooms in on human rights violations and war crimes

The Honors College commons played host Monday to the voice of opposition, in the form of an art exhibit and talk entitled, “Never Again? An Art Exhibition on Human Rights Violations and War Crimes.”

Opposition, particularly in the form of advocacy and activism, is an important facet of college life, and event organizer and alumna Lana Kesbeh says she was inspired to act by Irene Guenther’s class, “A Crime Without a Name: 20th Century Genocide.”

“My last semester of college, I took Guenther’s class, and it was a real motivator to have more on-campus educational events,” Kesbeh said.

Contributing lecturer and junior Biology major Fatima Syed concurs that Guenther’s class and especially her enthusiasm, was a catalyst for her speaking out and getting involved.

“Gunther didn’t hold back. She had no reservations about telling us about the realities about all this horrible history we’d never been exposed to before in our conventional high school education,” Syed said.

“As a class, we grew so much together, and collectively decided we wanted to be involved in some capacity.”

Guenther has stated that her class is founded on not just academic accounts of genocide, but personal accounts, in order to personalize the conflicts and wrongs and prevent students from distancing themselves. In the exhibition Monday, art played a large role in conveying the experience of the contributing students, alumni and artists for that same reason.

“Our events combine both (art and lecture) because you do have to have some background. You can look at a canvas, but you don’t necessarily know what it means,” Kesbeh said.

She feels, though, that art plays an important and special role.

“I feel like art gets people to think differently. Art is always subjective. You can look at it, and everyone takes something different from a piece,” she said.

Syed asserts that the power of art lies in the response of the viewers, and that there is a provocation specific to visual media that cannot necessarily be communicated in a talk.

“You can convey so many complex emotions through just one glance at art,” Syed said. “Even without paragraphs of description about these pieces, something just hits you. I think it’s such a unique way to convey what others try to say in articles or lectures.”

The topics of the brief lectures ran the gamut, with Syed discussing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and consequent human rights violations and political science senior Diane Stout recounting her experiences in Srebrenica, site of the July 1995 massacre.

“Learning,” Stout said, “is the key to making a real change.”

Making a positive change is one way to characterize activism, and though that word is tinged with stigma, activism is a vital and integral part of the college’s role in society. Syed, also the president of Students for a Democratic Society, posits that activism ought to be the outcome of any liberal education.

“Activism really just is figuring out, through a process of self discovery, what matters to you and taking initiative from there,” Syed said.

“It’s not about capitalism versus socialism or about black versus white. There’s wrong and right everywhere. Your job, as someone who wants to contribute to society, is to figure out what’s right and support it and figure out what’s wrong and voice opposition to it.”

The group plans to continue to educate and voice its opposition, through future events incorporating multimedia presentations and encourages students to get involved. Anyone wishing to get involved is encouraged to contact The Honors College directly.

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