Art springs civility
Published: Sunday, October 6, 2013
Updated: Sunday, October 6, 2013 22:10
The Benton hosted the first part of “Creativity and Civility,” an Art and Conversation event, on Friday evening. During the event UConn professors participated in a panel discussion about the power of art for civil discussions.
This interdisciplinary panel discussion used works from the Museum’s collection as a “springboard for conversation about contemporary themes” according to the museum’s webpage.
The works included the back of a Mola blouse made by Kuna Indian women from Panama in the mid 20th century, digital chromogenic photograph “And One” by Hank Willis Thomas and a photograph by Earnst Withers named “Daddy, I want to be free.”
The panel consisted of Anne D’Alleva, the Department Head and Associate Professor of Art and Art History, and Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, the Vice Provost for Diversity and Professor of History at UConn. Both professors have had a long history with the university and were invited to join English professor, Veronica Makowsky.
Each participant signed into the event and registered for raffle) before heading upstairs for wine and light Hor D’oeuvres during the reception at 5 p.m. Giving members and the audience enough time to settle and discuss topic amongst themselves, director Nancy Stula eventually began the discussion by introducing the agenda for the evening, the panelists and the moderator.
“Our society is beginning to confront the conflict between the freedom of expression and discussing controversial issues in a setting of respect,” Stula said before posing many questions and issues that integrated the three art pieces displayed.
D’Alleva spoke first, tying in references to Polynesian theology with the self assertion demonstrated by the molas. She explained the concept of mana which is similar to an electric charge or power that stratifies societies and can be contained in people as well as objects like art. On the other hand there is aroha, which is asserting one’s self through art or dance. She argued that effective civil discourse centers on asserting one’s self but also reaching out rather than only establishing one’s own viewpoint.
After D’Alleva, Ogbar integrated his knowledge of hip hop to talk about all three pieces. He eased the crowd up to him by sharing stories they can imagine and by finding things the crowd could relate to. He used the analogy of mix tapes to demonstrate how hip hop culture is a mix of cultures. Focusing on the piece “And One,” he commented on the fact that though the athletes are rich, they are still getting paid by the wealthy. Though with his knowledge of history, the rope in the picture symbolizes more to him than some other people, he argues that group dialogues are important to share cultural concepts the are the driving points behind works of art.
Both panelists agreed that the classroom is the a good place to exchange in a free flow of dialogue in which students should be encouraged to speak, whether they make a mistake or a clumsy statement, and learn to recover from it and move past it.
The second part of the talk will occur on Nov. 8, where President Herbst will be a panelist.