The connection between social engagement and art were evident as the Student Advisory Board hosted its annual Inspiration Night in the Princeton University Art Museum Thursday evening. This year’s theme, “Art & Activism: Get socially engaged in art,” aimed to highlight the intersection of visual art and social activism by bringing together various social justice campus groups to speak about pieces in the exhibition “Revealing Pictures: Photographs from the Christopher E. Olofson Collection.”
Charlotte Reynders ’19, Chair of Academic Outreach for SAB, explained her goals for the evening.
“When I was helping plan the event, I envisioned a night where students from actual social justice groups on campus could just come together and talk about their various issues and areas of interests and their sort of versions of activism,” Reynders said.
She added that she hoped these groups would then “invite other students in the community to speak with them and learn more about what they’re doing, and then use the photos in the actual exhibition as a talking point or a conversation piece to guide those discussions.”
While the annual event normally centers around a more academic approach, featuring lectures and talk-backs from professors, president of SAB Sarah Cho ’18 explained that the nature of the Revealing Pictures exhibit as one focusing on social justice in a unique lens lent itself to a different format for the event this year.
“A great way to really learn about the photographs would be to really engage with [them], know a little bit more about the background of the image. And [SAB] thought we can’t necessarily provide all the background information. So we wanted to reach out to different student organizations on campus and have them be involved and maybe give a different perspective that we wouldn’t be able to provide while talking about the pictures,” she added.
Thus, the first half of the two-hour program featured “Inspiration Stations,” in which patrons were encouraged to engage with the photographs through casual discussions facilitated by student group and SAB members.
One such student facilitator was Katherine Fleming ’19, who was representing Princeton Students for Gender Equality. Fleming led discussions on Mickalene Thomas’ photograph “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires.”
Fleming said that the photograph’s theme and the photographer herself are closely linked to PSGE.
“Something that we try to make a priority at [PSGE] is recognizing the intersectionality of oppressions and of identities,” she said. “So we try to look at how we can not just look for patriarchy in things, but also see racial hierarchies and classist hierarchies and things like that.”
Thus, PSGE was “really interested to be able to talk about this [photograph] because [Thomas] is someone who’s a female artist intervening in a male art canon and a black artist intervening in a white art canon.”
Fleming also noted that this event served as a platform for continuing a dialogue on campus. “Something that we’re trying to talk about in our discussions at PSGE this semester is art and its connection to activism, and how we can spotlight the contributions of female artists within the Princeton Art Museum, as well as ... in the world more generally,” she said. “I think there is a lot of talk about iconography on campus and how to make it more representative and inclusive, so I think it’s really cool that we’re able to talk about the connection between art and activism here when there is this wider movement on campus,” she explained.
Aside from social justice groups, other campus groups including the Katzenjammers, Songline Slam Poetry, and the Grind Arts Company were involved in the event as well, performing a selection of pieces in one of the gallery spaces during the second half of the evening.
“Art & Activism: Get socially engaged in art” was presented by SAB and took place at the Art Museum from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 13.