Where words fail, art speaks
“Advocating for Empathy,” an art exhibition curated by senior Laika McDermitt, features messages on important social issues.
“The exhibition is about starting conversations on complex topics,” McDermitt said. “I wanted it to open up dialogue on social, political and economic issues.”
The topics featured in the exhibition include civil rights, LGBTQ rights and animal rights. The purpose of the artwork is to encourage empathy and compassion during difficult times.
Often, curators will work with specific artists to create shows, but this one differs because it involved much more research into pieces that were already in GC’s archives.
All of the art is from the GC permanent collection, which means it is available for any student to research if they would like. Some of the artists in the exhibition include Sue Coe, Dox Thrash and Kathe Kollwitz.
“There were about 50 pieces in a subgroup of the permanent collection that I researched individually to see if I liked them intellectually and visually,” McDermitt said.
Her favorite piece in the collection is Annie Bissett’s “Sometimes I’m Married,” which is a series of 12 different prints of the U.S. It chronicles where in the U.S. her marriage to her partner was recognized over time.
“When Bissett was married in Massachusetts, nowhere else in the U.S. recognized gay marriage,” McDermitt said. “So the prints follow the legality of her marriage over a few decades. It hits you because at first you don’t realize it’s about something so personal when the art looks very impersonal.”
Almost all of the other pieces in the exhibition have personal connections that touch on issues relevant to society today.
“I think Laika was successful in how she was able to use the concept of empathy as a framework for discussing social justice, art and activism,” said Valerie Aranda, a professor of art. “From prints dating back to the 1800s to contemporary artworks in the collection, Laika was able to find a common denominator to unify the art department’s growing political prints collection.”
Sophomore Cassie Gill, a history major, attended the reception for the exhibition on Aug. 30. She said that hearing McDermitt explain why she chose each piece really made them stand out more than just looking at them and reading about them.
“I think this show is important because of how accessible it is to college students,” said Gill. “A lot of us are very interested in social change so having an exhibition like this gives students an opportunity to have those important conversations.”
This sentiment is exactly what McDermitt said she hopes people will take away from her exhibition.
“I hope the exhibition gives people a reason to be more empathetic in their daily lives and to think about how their actions affect other people,” McDermitt said. “It can be hard to have those difficult conversations with friends, but that isn’t a reason to not have them.”
McDermitt remembers touring GC as a freshman and learning that she would have to curate a show for her Senior Capstone.
“When I toured here my freshman year, Bill Fisher, the head of the department, told me how senior museum studies majors curate a show,” McDermitt said. “To me, it felt like a dream back then, and it still feels like a dream right now.”
She said she is proud that the show has come to fruition and is excited to see her work creating conversations as people ask questions to learn more about the issues at hand.
Visitors have told her about pieces that have had an emotional effect on them, and for McDermitt, that was the ultimate goal: to elicit an emotional response that people would carry with them after they left.
“Art is a form of communication and has the potential to raise awareness and promote positive change,” Aranda said. “To its viewers, art can magnify an issue, stir emotions and questions and ignite a dialogue.”
The exhibition is free and open to the public until Sept. 14 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays in Leland Gallery located in Ennis Hall.