Benton Museum of Art exhibit ‘Bodies Living with Violence’ opens


Stephen Chan, an international relations professor at the University of London, delivers the keynote address during an event related to the Benton Museum of Art ehxibit “Bodies Living with Violence” in Storrs, Connecticut on Friday, April 15, 2016. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Violence comes in forms beyond the physical. A new exhibit at the William Benton Museum of Art, which opened Friday evening, looks to explore the greater effects of violence and the trauma behind it.

Christine Sylvester compiled and curated the exhibit, and Cathy Schlund-Vials, director of Asian and Asian American studies, organized it. The efforts of both of these individuals made it possible for the evening’s keynote speaker to attend, international relations professor Stephen Chan from the University of London.

Sylvester’s exhibit came about because she wanted to investigate violence beyond the victim’s direct experience.

“What drove me to curate the exhibit was to show how war is experienced not just by people directly, but also how people experience war outside of a warzone.  I wanted more subtle presentations of the varieties of violence that included racial, genocidal, domestic and sexual violence,” Sylvester said.

Every piece of art in the exhibit tells a story that goes beyond what anyone can see in a physical medium. Chan helped to understand the underlying catalysts of violence, and his studies on international relations presented a perspective that may be seldom understood when one thinks about what causes a violent act.

Chan discussed and broke down violent organizations in the world today such as the Taliban, Al’Qaeda and ISIS. The point of the lecture was to better understand the violence perpetuated by such groups, analyzing the intimate nature of some of the most horrific acts of violence and why their committed.

“We’re living in a society where trauma and atrocity is common place,” Chan said.

Chan also spoke about rituals of slaughter, including a book by Yvonne Vera, “The Stone Virgins.”

Chan explained that in one scene of the book, a person is executed during a tango, a very intimate and intentional moment. When ISIS executes someone, the head is cradled, Chan said. This style of execution is taught to ISIS soldiers as well as western Special Forces in efforts to avoid or minimize the trauma one can be exposed to.

Additionally, he talked about the mujahedeen and the origins of the Taliban. The story is largely wrapped up in legend, but according to Chan was influential and lead to thousands of people rallying behind Mullah Omar. The story became the narrative for young people meant to justify certain actions, and thus the Taliban was born.

Attendants described how Chan made the audience feel personally connected to the violence in the world and praised his use of language and rhetoric.

“I did not expect the language used to describe the violence and trauma. It was more intimate than I expected,” Jahdiel Cruz, a fourth-semester international studies graduate student, said.

Matthew Gilbert is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at

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