Art gallery creates conversations about the environment from different ethnic perspectives

 The Creative Intersectionality: Culture and the Environment Exhibit is displayed in the Student Union and features artwork by representatives of each of the six UConn cultural centers. The exhibition includes photographs, quilts, and murals to offer perspectives on the environment from different cultures. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

The Creative Intersectionality: Culture and the Environment Exhibit is displayed in the Student Union and features artwork by representatives of each of the six UConn cultural centers. The exhibition includes photographs, quilts, and murals to offer perspectives on the environment from different cultures. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

The Sustainability Subcommittee at the University of Connecticut collaborated with the cultural centers to create an art exhibit on culture and the environment.

The exhibit, called “Creative Intersectionality: Culture and the Environment,” was held in the Student Union, with a climate justice panel in Laurel Hall followed by an art reception in the Student Union. The exhibit featured artists Abby Katz, Joanne Trinh, Cindy Garcia, Sherly Santiago, Leah Miller, Sokaina Asar, Sara Defrazio and Will Rios, according to the event flier.

The goal of the committee is to work towards a “just and sustainable planet,” according to the organization’s Instagram page.

Student organizer, eighth-semester environmental studies and political science major Taylor Mayes said this organization is a subcommittee of USG. She described legislation about sustainability as being “stuck in the cogs of the bureaucracy” and it not leading anywhere.

 Taylor Mayes, an environmental studies and political science double major, is the organizer for the event. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

Taylor Mayes, an environmental studies and political science double major, is the organizer for the event. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

“We thought it would be a better use of our energy to raise awareness about environmental justice issues,” Mayes said.

The environmental art exhibit came about from that idea. The idea was to “engage” the students rather than passing legislation, which was the point of the panel before the art exhibit.

“We’re going for a change in attitude versus policy and law,” Mayes said.

Mayes said she was passionate about art activism.

“Art is central to social justice,” Mayes said. This was her reasoning for bringing in artists of different backgrounds and different perspectives on the environmental movement and why she reached out to the cultural centers.

“You don’t really hear about black perspectives on the environment or Pakistani perspectives on the environment. It’s usually white perspectives,” Mayes said.

Networking and looking for students began in November. Mayes said she reached out to the Pan Asian Council in the Asian American Cultural Center and the NAACP, to name a few organizations. Students that studied the environment and were artistic would come and meet with Mayes to develop their artwork for the exhibit. The artists did a lot of background work to create art that would display the theme of what the Sustainability Subcommittee was seeking.

Sokaina Asar, a sixth-semester individualized neuroscience and studio art major, was one of the artists who wanted to get more involved and joined the subcommittee through Mayes.

“I really wanted to represent Pakistan and the Asian American Cultural Center through this new opportunity,” Asar said.

“Some people watched documentaries. Some people met with professors. One of our artists did poetry,” Mayes said. “It’s a process.”

Video, photography, collages and quilts were a few of the different mediums that were at the gallery.

Asar said that she made her art on black sanded paper with pastel and charcoal. She said she had looked at photographs of the pollution in Pakistan and had experience with the environment in Pakistan since she travelled there this past summer.

 (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

(Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

“They represent Pakistan’s environmental issues concerning smog, water pollution and mistreatment of land,” Asar said. “The pieces are soft and smokey, emulating smog and a pollutic atmosphere.”

Abby Katz, a sixth-semester double-major with an individualized major in food, culture, and sustainable society and human rights, said that most of how she lived her life was defined by her blackness, as an Afro-Latina.

For Katz’s art, the concept of squares was a nod to the myth of quilting by slaves in communication during the time of Underground Railroad, which inspired her tapestry.

“It’s a mix of plants and things symbolizing growth,” Katz said about the images in the squares themselves. “The history of black people with the environment has been defined by slavery for so long. But there’s more than that.”

Katz hopes that the art will creative conversations between those viewing the art and the artists as well.

“I hope people take away a different perspective,” Mayes said. “I hope people go out of their way to appreciate art and how central it is to creating social change.”


Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.nguyen@uconn.edu.