Art and politics might seem like very different fields, but on Friday, Sept. 7 radical artist and social justice advocate Meredith Stern spoke in Konover Auditorium about how she strives to combine the two.
Her presentation on her work with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was just the beginning of a string of events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the document, culminating with a rally in Hartford on Saturday, Sept. 8.
Stern specifically works with a group called Justseeds, made up of 29 North American artists who are involved socially, politically and environmentally. For her part, Stern recently spent a year working on her Declaration of Human Rights project.
The Declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 following World War II to address many of the injustices that took place during the war. However, besides the document being largely ignored by the public, Stern also pointed out that the nations of the world haven’t found an effective way of enforcing the tenants of the declaration, which is part of the reason so many can still be found taking place in the United States today.
For her project, Stern made prints of the entire document, inserting relevant images into the text depicting violations of the document that take place in the U.S.
“As an artist reading it, it was super text heavy,” Stern said. “I feel like I need to have some visual images that help break up all the words. I wanted to see if adding visual art to the document could inspire other people to read it.”
Stern’s images targeted issues such as immigrant families being divided, indigenous communities being ignored, gender non-conforming individuals lacking resources and the horrors of solitary confinement that adults and children alike are forced into. At the top of Stern’s list of present injustices in the U.S. are mass incarceration and failures in policing.
“I’d heard about the document before,” Bella Gradante, a fifth-semester elementary education student said after the presentation, “but I’d never seen it in such an aesthetically pleasing way. The way she made prints was very effective.”
Stern’s goal with the project was to make the document more readable. She’s already printed her new illustrated document in a small booklet and sold 900 of the 1,000 copies she made.
Another thing Stern focused on during her presentation was the other artists that have come before her, but have been ignored because they were part of marginalized communities.
“All the work that we do is a continuum on the work of our ancestors,” Stern said.
For the beginning of her presentation, Stern shared a slideshow highlighting artists such as Claude Cahun, Emory Douglass, Keith Haring and Yayoi Kusama. She emphasized that these artists were advocates of feminism, the civil rights movement, gender inclusivity, safer sex and other radical movements. She also included art groups in her presentation such as Atelier Populare and the Guerilla Girls.
The work of artist Kusama particularly impacted fifth-semester history education student Kyre McBroom. Kusama focuses a lot on immersive art, which helps her cope with her own struggles with mental health.
“A lot of people don’t think extracurriculars can help you, but it’s actually really beneficial to do something relaxing,” McBroom said.
Stern engaged with the audience in a discussion of the idea that art influences people in a way different than pure politics, toying with emotions as well as logic. Stern and the audience spoke of art being easier to digest than politics, opening doors for conversations people may not otherwise be willing to have.
Alex Houdeshell is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.