The current political climate and social unrest experienced across the country provides numerous real-time issues and complexities of urgency ripe for addressing at this year’s 3rd Annual Social Justice Conference, a signature event for our College of the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. True to its mission, this year’s program, which includes the play Roosters, two spoken word performances, and an art exhibit by Joey Krebs — a nationally known artist recognized for images inspired by social justice concerns — is sparking challenging conversations about human rights, social inequities, privilege, distortion, anger, repression and oppression-fueled circumstances. Many voices are featured in this year’s program, with the voices of artists among the more provocative.
This should not surprise us. “Art has a way of triggering stronger responses than academic articles or books because it is typically exhibited in places that will be seen not just by members of the academic community, but by the public” (Jonathan Knight, 2008).
It is important to note that hosting a controversial art installation should not be taken to imply the institution’s endorsement of an artist’s voice or vision.
Given the controversial nature of its subject matter, we recognize that the current exhibit may be shocking and offensive to members of our campus and community. The very nature of art moves us to think and ask questions about what we are seeing, and challenges us to reflect carefully on how we are interpreting its meaning and significance. It is important to keep in mind that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows an individual to express themselves “through publication and dissemination.” This is a basic element of the Constitutional protection of freedom of expression. In this instance, Mr. Krebs has established that his artistic expression is designed to challenge views, solicit emotion and provoke a response or action from the community in order to prompt our engagement with current social justice issues. Given the provocative nature of his installation, we should anticipate that ongoing discussion of the meaning and significance of his artwork will be fueled by diverging personal, social and political viewpoints. His artwork invites this engagement.
As an institution of higher learning, it is our responsibility to model civil discourse and to promote fearless engagement and freedom of debate and deliberation even when faced with the range of discussions and critical feedback encouraged by this exhibit, or by the full range of views featured at this year’s Social Justice Conference.
This artist was selected through a carefully prescribed protocol used for all Gallery exhibits and involved review by the Art Department’s Gallery Committee, which is comprised solely of Art faculty members. The committee’s role is not to manage or restrict the artist’s content of expression. The selection process followed in this instance has been consistent with University policy and practice, and no state-supported funds are being used to fund this exhibit. Following University protocols, audiences are warned of the graphic nature of content associated with any installation.
For more information on this installation and the accompanying conference sessions, visit the Social Justice Conference website.