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.

Students Plant ‘Smoking Hot Sycamores’ and Other Trees around Campus Paths

Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)
Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)

If there’s one thing that can be said of St. Mary’s students, it’s that we don’t lack concern for the environment.  While the rest of the community was huddled inside early Saturday morning avoiding the cold, rainy weather, about 15 students met at the Campus Center to take action and support the environment by getting their hands dirty planting trees.

The project of planting 250 native trees around campus was sponsored by EcoHouse, the Sustainability Committee, the Grounds Crew, the Critical Area Commission, and the Office of Planning and Facilities.  The planting was part of the College’s Buffer Management Strategy, which specifically works to make the College have ecologically sound buffers while also preserving important campus viewsheds.

Emily Saari, a sophomore EcoHouse member, helped bring the project into fruition when she proposed the idea to Dan Branigan, the Director of Design and Construction on campus.

“I suggested it as a way for EcoHousers to get credit for a community outreach project, and he was very open to the idea,” said Saari. “It’s really good to see it getting off the ground.”

The students helped plant trees in three locations across campus: below the grassy hill across from the campus center, around the pine forest beside Queen Anne, and in the small field beside the path to Dorchester.  Upon arrival, students were given shovels, potted saplings, and directions on how to properly plant the American sycamores, dogwoods, and other types of native trees.  In the end, the rainy weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise since it made the ground soft for digging, and the better-than-expected student turnout allowed the project to be completed an hour earlier than planned.

Senior Liahna Gonda-King helped plant five trees with Senior Cynthia Lawson for the project.  She said, “It’s really nice that our campus is actively trying to sustain the environment instead of just talking about it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by all in attendance, eager to improve the campus’s environmental health.  Senior biology major Stacey Meyer said of the project: “They’ve been doing so much construction on campus lately, it’s nice to see some greening making up for it.”

Knowledge of the tree-planting project was spread by Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall, who rallied support for the initiative with his all-student emails.  In them, he stressed the importance of greening the campus.

“These trees will help shore up our shorelines, improve our storm water management, create more habitats for native organisms and make our campus even more beautiful than it already is,” his email said. “Think of how cool it will be when you come back 20 years from now and say to your kids/spouse/in-laws, ‘I planted that smoking hot sycamore right there, and that radical eastern redbud over yonder.’”

Regarding his personal view of the project, Hall said, “I was excited to say the least, and anxious to help get more people involved and get the plants in the ground!”

Hall said that the native trees that were planted have evolved in the campus ecosystems, and therefore use the water and nutrient availability of the area optimally and are resistant to natural diseases and pests. According to Hall, they will provide the best habitat for other organisms and should do very well. He said that naturally there will be some “thinning” as the trees establish themselves, but “we took that into account when planting them.”

“Iron Man” Brian Boyle Recounts his Struggle

Iron Heart

It’s hard to appreciate what we have until we lose it. None can relate to this sentiment more fully than senior Brian Boyle, who has gone through the experience of losing the most precious thing possible: his life.

On Oct. 1, 2009, the world will have an opportunity to read about Boyle’s experience of surviving a deadly accident first-hand in his book Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back from the Dead. Published by Skyhorse Publishing, the book will soon be available in national bookstores like Barnes and Noble, online sites like Amazon.com, and at the campus bookstore. Running at about 250 pages, Iron Heart covers this survivor’s tale of going from being bed-ridden and expected to never be able to walk again to becoming an accomplished triathlon iron man.

“Brian’s story of courage and recovery was so compelling it didn’t take much convincing at all to agree to publish his memoir. When you know his story, and how lucky he is to be alive, you can’t help but be amazed and be thankful that good things do happen to good people,” said Thomas Semosh of Skyhorse Publishing.

His surreal story began on July 6, 2004, when, on his way home from swim practice, Boyle’s car was plowed into by a dump truck on the driver’s side. The impact resulted in major bones breaking, major organs sliding out of place, including his heart, and a loss of six percent of his blood.
At Prince George’s Hospital, Boyle underwent fourteen operations, including 36 blood transfusions and three open-chest procedures. The pain of the injuries and the extent of the operations was such that doctors had no choice but to induce a coma. When Boyle woke up a month and a half later, he was paralyzed, weighed one hundred pounds less, and was unable to communicate for weeks.

“The doctors said I died several times while in the hospital, but I don’t remember any of it,” said Boyle. What he does remember is having continuous hallucinations and nightmares during the coma. As an art major, Boyle has been able to use his art as an outlet for expressing his thoughts about the ordeal.
“For awhile the only colors I used for my artwork were white, black and red, which kind of represented life, death, and blood, or the in-between stage, for me. It was my outlet for all the grief and anguish I felt that I couldn’t express in words, and it allowed me to confront the situation, gain understanding, and move on,” said Brian.

Another outlet for expressing his confusion and frustration during the ordeal was through writing in a journal. After returning to the hospital in November 2004 after a couple months of re-learning how to walk and do other necessary skills like eat, his doctors suggested starting a log-book of his thoughts to make sure his mental therapy was keeping up with the physical therapy. The journal consequently morphed into Iron Heart during the course of about half a year with the help of editor and mentor Bill Katovsky.

“While I occasionally guided his pen, his heart and soul are at the core of his memoir, making it remarkable and one-of-a-kind. I did push Brian to dig deeper at times since I felt that the trauma of the accident and hospitalization still affected him, but he came through like a real Ironman,” said Katovsky.
Unlike his dreams of the future after the accident, which were essentially nonexistent, Boyle is now expecting to graduate in May with a degree in Art and go on to work in graphic design and marketing. Competing and training in triathlons has also taken a spot in his everyday life now. Having competed in 14 tournaments, Boyle has successfully come out of the experience with a positive outlook on life.

“I remember thinking while sitting in a wheelchair in the hospital that a lot of the people there were never going to be able to leave, but I was, so I should use my recovery as a way to give them a boost, or hope. This book has been a way for me to spread my positivity to others, give thanks, and give credit where credit’s due.”

Benefit Raises Awareness

The red cloth banner draped over the entrance table was riddled with the names of people who cared; people who cared to help spread awareness about a growing epidemic: AIDS.

On December 1, AIDS Day 2008 was acknowledged worldwide, and St. Mary’s took part by throwing a benefit concert in DPC at 8:00 p.m, which included the signing of a red cloth by all guests. The event was put together by Binta Diallo, senior; Tricia Realbuto, the Coordinator of Orientation and Services; and Candace Daniels, a Wellness Advocate. Bringing in about 40 students who helped by raising $50 in donations for UNAIDS, the benefit concert featured music by the band Half the Battle, new dance moves from the Step Team, and singing by the Gospel Choir.

“It’s really good to know that our school cares enough to put this event together. And I didn’t even know there was a world AIDs day before this event or that AIDs affects so many people,” said senior Rachel Reckling.

Sponsored by the Counseling Center, Student Activities, and FUSE, the proposal for the event was presented to Tricia Realbuto’s office from Lenny Howard, the Assistant Vice President of Academic Services. Realbuto then “picked up the idea and ran with it.”

Realbuto said the main goal of the event was to “raise awareness and to get a discussion going. Everyone has this mentality that if it doesn’t happen to me and that if I don’t know anyone with AIDS, it must not be a problem. But it can happen to anybody.”

The seriousness of the illness was conveyed through poetry read by members of the audience in an open-mic style between bands. Marian Stukes, senior; Mariela Mata, senior; and Suzanna Sample, sophomore; were just a few of the people to read their pieces aloud. From a letter written to God from ‘love’ reporting that it is giving up on people, to a skit performed by Adam Butler about an 18 year old who is scared to tell his pregnant girlfriend he has HIV, the performances were memorable for all attending.

Half the Battle also captured the audience’s attention with their renditions of some popular songs from the 90s and more recently, like ‘Mr. Jones’ by the Counting Crows and ‘Sweetest Girl’ by Wyclef Jean.

The Step Team gained a few more members since their last performance at The Dance Show and energized the crowd with new moves. Dancing in red shirts to acknowledge World AIDS Day, the Team took up half of DPC with their performance and succeeded in drawing in the crowds. Senior Kait Gruber said, “I came out just to see what the event was all about, but mainly to see the Step Team.”

In addition to the entertainment, the front table provided all guests with an array of brochures about the basics of HIV/AIDS, HIV prevention, testing for HIV infection, and a list of HIV counseling, testing, and referral sites in Maryland.

Condoms and red ribbon pins were also supplied. Daniels strongly encouraged the audience members to get tested for HIV, especially if they were concerned that they may have the symptoms.

Realbuto was also adamant about students getting checked for the disease: “We wanted to do HIV testing at the Health Center, but unfortunately they don’t have the labs or the manpower to carry it out. Hopefully the information on where to get tested throughout the county will inspire people to do so.”

Underwire ‘Zine Gives Gender Issues a Lift

Junior Sarah Eargle is passionate about women’s issues.  The head of Feminists for United Sexual Equality (FUSE), Eargle has directed her passion into single-handedly bringing back a project that had long been discarded: Underwire.

Underwire is a zine that was started to bring issues of women, gender, and sexuality to light.  Seen as a creative outlet, it encourages students to be imaginative with gender issues and submit anything they create.  Submissions include, but aren’t limited to, poetry, essays, editorials, prose, photography, painting, drawing, mixed media, and sculptures.

“Underwire was born out of FUSE a couple of years ago, and then sort of disappeared for a while.  I really liked the concept and I wanted to “resurrect” it,” said Eargle.  She is currently editing and assembling the submissions for the next issue, due out in early December.

“I received about 50-70 submissions, and they were all really good,” said Eargle, “I just wish more men would have submitted.  It’s just as much a men’s issue as a women’s issue.”

Freshman Jessica O’Rear also picked up on the possibility of Underwire having a skewed audience when she said, “Unfortunately, I think it only reaches out to the demographic who are already aware of the issues at stake, and that is exactly why they’re drawn to the publication. Others don’t think there’s a problem and, therefore, ignore the zine. This is sad, but I find it to be true.”

Other students believe that Underwire can reach out to those who may not be interested in women, gender, and sexuality issues.  Freshman Johanna Galat, a member of FUSE, said, “People pick up magazines about things they aren’t interested in all the time just because they are something to read. I always pick up fundamentalist Christian pamphlets to look through even though I am not at all interested in being saved. So maybe it could change the minds of people who aren’t into feminism in the first place.”

Junior Stephanie Espinoza is a member of another program on campus designed to help women: the First Responder Network, a subcomponent of Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program (SARP).  She agreed with Galat about Underwire: “With the fact that sexual issues like harassment are such touchy topics, it’s good to know that someone has the guts to tackle them. People don’t think gender is an issue anymore but it really is, so Underwire sounds like a good way to get that point across.”

Unfortunately, while most students think Underwire is a good idea, barely anyone knows about it.  When one student was asked what she thought of the zine, she responded, “What do I think about bras?”  This was not an uncommon reaction.

Another member of FUSE, junior Jessica Earlbeck said, “I just found out about Underwire this year through FUSE and honestly, it’s pathetic how unknown it is.  I’ve read it once, but briefly, and it seemed interesting. It did address some very deep and emotional topics, but it’s just not a good way to get the word out about women’s issues since it’s not read.”

So along with putting in the long hours of bringing the collection together, Eargle is also brainstorming publicity ideas for getting the word out about the project.  “I was thinking of maybe having an informal party when it comes out and everyone who had a submission published can bring their friends.”  Whatever she decides, it will undoubtedly be the beginning of a new success streak for Underwire.