Students create art to spark conversation

Westminster’s activist art collective, Be a Human, created the White Supremacy Cemetery, located in the Shaw Student Center to raise awareness about lack of racial diversity on campus. Be a Human coordinator Levi Barrett said the installation is based on emotion and theory. Photos by Bri Miller

Westminster’s activist art collective, Be a Human, created the White Supremacy Cemetery, located in the Shaw Student Center to raise awareness about lack of racial diversity on campus. Be a Human coordinator Levi Barrett said the installation is based on emotion and theory. Photos by Bri Miller

A group of students is gathered around a handmade cardboard cemetery in the Shaw Student Center, discussing racism and white supremacy.

Be a Human’s White Supremacy Cemetery art installation tackles white supremacy and and lack of diversity on campus. Be a Human is Westminster College’s art activist collective with the main goal of educating the community about issues of race, ableism, queerphobia and transphobia on campus.

Be a Human began creating art installations in the spring semester of 2016 to confront systemic issues. The first installation was about racism on campus in a classroom of Converse Hall.

Levi Barrett, a sociology major and coordinator for Be a Human, said Be a Human is working to become an official club by the end of November.

The White Supremacy Cemetery, located in the Shaw Student Center, includes handmade tombstones with painted messages in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. According to Be a Human coordinator Levi Barrett, this installation was meant to start a conversation and test the campus climate.

The White Supremacy Cemetery, located in the Shaw Student Center, includes handmade tombstones with painted messages in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. According to Be a Human coordinator Levi Barrett, this installation was meant to start a conversation and test the campus climate.

“The club kind of built off of another activist demonstration, the Are You Listening demonstration that we had at the end of fall semester 2015,” Barrett said. “It mostly started with a couple friends and I seeing a lot of things, and we wanted to bring attention to them.”

Barrett said the club wanted to create a project that would address the issues he and others were seeing on campus. The students felt art would be a great way to set up installations to get ideas across and then have the ability to walk away from the art, Barrett said.

“Having upfront demonstrations is so taxing,” Barret said. “It’s easier in a way emotionally to make art and have it be an installation and have it speak for itself. You can see how people engage with it differently.”

According to Barrett, the awareness the art bring to students on campus depends on the installation.

“The art installation that we have in Shaw right now, The White Supremacy Cemetery, is a lot less upfront information and it is more of a piece that is based on emotion and theory,” Barrett said. “This one was meant to be a conversation piece and test out the campus climate, whereas the pronoun campaign was very intently about education and being accessible.”

Be a Human is an art activist collective with the main goal of educating the community about issues of race, ableism, queerphobia and transphobia on campus, according to Levi Barrett, one of the club’s coordinators. Be a Human was created in the spring semester of 2015 and has set up various art installations since its formation. 

Be a Human is an art activist collective with the main goal of educating the community about issues of race, ableism, queerphobia and transphobia on campus, according to Levi Barrett, one of the club’s coordinators. Be a Human was created in the spring semester of 2015 and has set up various art installations since its formation. 

Junior neuroscience major Mikayla Holt said she is drawn in every time she sees a new art installation.

“I think the tombstones are an interesting way to bring awareness to racism,” Holt said. “I’ve seen their other artwork in the past and it has really interested me and made me think about the issue in a different way.”

Mariela Vazquez Gordo, a sociology and gender studies major and coordinator for Be a Human, said she’s helped create the art installations since the beginning.

“I see the installations as a means to overwhelm space, particularly with movements and matters that don’t have a lot of space within mass media settings,” Gordo said. “Not only are the installations we do a means to take up space, but [also] a means to critically analyze the situation that’s going on.”

According to Gordo, Be a Human is asking the campus to think critically about issues on campus and beyond.

“For a lack of a better phrase, we use the element of surprise as a means to overwhelm the space and provide a platform for some sort of disorientation for students,” Gordo said. “We use it for students to take a closer look and to find some sort of clarity in it and start thinking critically.”