Art and Politics Work Together to Bring Awareness to Displacement

In a Middle Eastern refåugee camp, a young girl plays with her friends among the piles of rock and debris littering the ground. A world away in New Jersey, a State Highway worker helps drag a cracked and dusty cement road barrier to the side of the road.

What do these two scenes have in common? They are both examples of the inspiration for the artwork of Amze Emmons, an art professor at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania.

The work of Emmons and artist Keiko Ishii Eckhardt, who draws inspiration from her Japanese ancestor’s experiences migrating to the United States during World War II, are being featured in Boyden Gallery of Montgomery Hall.

Their exhibition, entitled “Interrupted Lives: Human Migration in War and Peace,” opened on Wednesday, Oct. 21. The event was cosponsored by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Center for the Study of Democracy and by contributions by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Along with the artwork display, there were presentations by Emmons himself and Political Science Professor Sahar Shafqat.

“I absolutely love that the Center [for the Study of Democracy] is getting to mix politics and art…There is definitely a mutual attraction between the two fields,” said Michael Cain, Political Science Professor and Director of the Center for Democracy.

The disciplines of political science and studio art may seem unrelated, but after seeing them woven together in the haunting prints, drawings, and texts of Eckhardt’s and Emmons’s work, their relationship becomes evident.

Emmons’s art pieces are depictions of the images we see daily in the media, save one exception: they are void of people. By removing humans, the solitary scenes of displacement, war, famine, oppression, and natural disasters causes the viewer to feel like they are part of the environment. Emmons admits that he is somewhat motivated to create his artwork out of social responsibility.

“Everything has a cultural message…People who look at [my drawings] pose questions about how they relate to other people and the world,” he said.

Professor Shafqat was able to play into that sentiment when she raised awareness about the displacement crisis currently occurring in Northern Pakistan. Although the area has been riddled with strife for decades, recent fighting between the Pakistani government and the Taliban militants has displaced over 2.5 million people. Shafqat emphasized that it is the civilians, not the army or the Taliban, who are suffering the most.

“Civilians are caught between these two monsters of radicals and militants. Most people have scattered to the wind and many are left to fend for themselves,” she said. She then showed photographs of children trying to make the best out of a life that has been wrenched away from them.

Eckhardt’s work carries with it the same amount of sobering intensity. By inserting text narratives documenting her Japanese ancestors’ passage to America, the prints and drawings suddenly become more personal.

Her memorable pieces like Ships on the Bottom, From Rice Farms to Sawmills, and Only What You Can Carry invite the viewer to relate to moments from their own life, while also getting a feel for the historical significance of the work.

Students have the opportunity to see Emmons’s and Eckhardt’s work at Boyden Gallery Monday-Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Wednesday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. until Dec. 9.

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