Center’s juried art exhibit demonstrates varied approaches to questions of dignity

May 2, 2022

The Center for Social Concerns’ Arts of Dignity Series culminated with an undergraduate art exhibit on the first floor of Geddes Hall the week of April 25. The exhibit featured 25 works in various media by students at the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College, including the prison programs at Westville Correctional Facility (Moreau College Initiative and Inside-Out.) Nearly 50 works were submitted to be reviewed and selected by the jury, South Bend artists Laurie Rousseau and Ramiro Rodriguez, chief art preparator, Snite Museum of Art. The works on display explored contemporary realities in which dignity is either threatened or enhanced.

Many of the student works were preoccupied with recent geo-political violence and racial injustice, while others raised questions about social and cultural norms that exclude people on the basis of language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion. 

A work called Enclosed Gaza Border, by Francesca Casarella ‘23, captured the trauma of war in a photograph of the closed Gaza border and its eerie, empty silence, while another work called Close the Sky, by CJ Rodgers ‘24, confronted the viewer with a Ukrainian cry for help through a digital print illustration.

A number of students who participated in the center course Act Justly: Racial Justice and the American Civil Rights Movement submitted works the jury selected. Those included a plaster mold of a hand breaking free of chains, inspired by a tour of the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum (Better than Bondage: A Soul Unbound, Erica Browne 22). Allan George ‘24, submitted a photograph called Remembrance of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, site of the white supremacist bombing that claimed the lives of four young girls. 

Some of the works served not only as a witness to injustice but also as an inspiration for change, such as We Are Sacred, Too, by Zoë Case ‘22. The digital print depicts young girls visiting a museum and raising questions of representation. In her artist statement accompanying the illustration, Case wrote that “art museums have historically not been welcoming spaces for people of color, especially with the deep history of colonialism. As a Black artist, I loved going to museums as a child, but I never really felt a connection to the art because it fundamentally was not made for children like me.”

Colorful ceramic pottery, wood sculptures, and mixed media pieces explored personal narratives regarding language and ethnicity as well as sexuality and religion. An eye-catching set of oil paintings called Bo(y)tanical Garden, by Marc Philippon ‘22, invited the viewer to question gender stereotypes. Philippon explained that he uses “vivid colors and surrealist imagery inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses to portray a lively depiction of the male body blooming with various plants and flowers that exist together as a unified organism. Through this approach, I aim to satirize some of the rigid barriers of gender prevalent in the history of oil painting and male self-expression in general.”

Co-sponsors of the exhibit included the Department of Art, Art History, and Design at the University of Notre Dame, the Office of the Vice President for Mission at Saint Mary’s College, and the Common Good Initiatives at Holy Cross College.