NYU DEPT., a newly founded student-run group for people of color within the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions, opened a showcase on Feb. 16 called “A Call to Action and Solidarity” to raise awareness of cultural freedom. The group is working to create an inclusive community for people of all races and backgrounds — something members feel the department currently lacks.
The exhibit is in a large, open space divided into three stations. Visitors are invited to interact with the stations and offer examples of how they would define decolonization, authorship and solidarity. Suggestions are written anonymously on the boards in each station. Despite the difficulties of defining such sprawling concepts, the exhibit encourages the students and faculty of the art department to confront sensitive racial issues in an open and collaborative channel.
Steinhardt junior Olivia Chou, one of the organizers of DEPT., described the group’s founding concept as a radical shift from traditional organizations, particularly in terms of how they view authorship.
“DEPT. sees decolonization as an ultimate departure from colonized structures — which America was built off of — and how other institutions are going to function as a result,” Chou said. “Authorship relates to the idea [of] multiculturalism, which oftentimes assumes that people of color are representatives of their entire race.”
Chou also explained that the multiculturalism movement erases individual identities.
“[Multiculturalism] doesn’t take into consideration that these people are individuals and they all bring in their own stories, complicated histories, genealogies and backgrounds,” Chou said.
In DEPT.’s view, authorship means artists author their own individual stories — and these stories shouldn’t be pigeonholed as just the story of a person of color.
Solidarity aims to bridge the divisiveness between and within races. Prejudices can be passed on through generations and create challenges for minority groups that hope to stand in full solidarity with others. Chou described the importance of overcoming prejudices.
“If you want to stand in solidarity with people of color, you can’t just pick and choose who to stand in solidarity with,” Chou said.
The 2016 presidential election results have instigated protests on university campuses across
America, bringing the racial divide to the forefront of people’s minds. While DEPT. was not created as a direct result of the election, in the current political climate the group’s leaders felt that it was the best time to start a movement to increase awareness of political, social and cultural issues. Rather than directing personal attacks against individuals who are not considered people of color, DEPT.’s exhibits highlight the struggles of the politicized existence that some people of color face because of their racial identities.
Future DEPT. events will center around themes such as cultural bonding and communication through open forum structures and Q&A sessions. To facilitate discussion, round tables and chairs will be set up in the exhibition space.
“DEPT: A Call to Action and Solidarity” will remain on view through March 3 at the Commons Gallery in the Barney Building. Admission is free to all.
Email Phyllis Lam at [email protected]