For Arts Enthusiasts, New Opportunities
Issue   |   Wed, 03/07/2012 - 02:00
Photo by Amanda Villarreal ’12
“Sudden Flowers,” a collaborative multimedia art exhibition, is currently being displayed in the Eli Marsh gallery. Students helped Artist-In-Residence Eric J. Gottesman paint the mural last week.

Twelve years ago in a neighborhood in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, a project called “Sudden Flowers” to collect the unheard and unseen stories of Ethiopian youth was born. Part of this exhibition, created by the College’s current Artist-In-Residence Eric J. Gottesman, is currently displayed in the Eli Marsh gallery. It is a multimedia effort that involved a group of Ethiopian children who had lost their parents to AIDS, the residents of villages at which Gottesman showed his exhibit and – the latest and the most spontaneous part of the process – many Amherst students who simply wanted to help create art.

For part of “Sudden Flowers,” Gottesman took photographs and made films with a group of children and created portraits of a hundred kids that he knew or worked with over the 12 years he was working on the project. As part of the installation at Amherst, he decided to create a large mural that is segmented into three parts of a map depiction of the town in which he was working. For each kid that worked within “Sudden Flowers,” he took a picture of them and put them where they lived to unify them as a community, as well as to show their individual identities. He knew, however, that he would need help to paint it.

Expecting very few volunteers, Gottesman talked to a painting class at the College and told them about his project. By chance, one of the students in the class was Amanda Villarreal ’12, a senator who is a part of the new Arts Committee of the AAS. She immediately saw this project as a chance to work towards enhancing the visibility and accessibility of art on campus, and used the Arts Committee to help publicize the opportunity. On the first day of painting, a surprised Gottesman greeted a group of roughly 25 students who were all excited to paint – and more kept coming.

According to Gottesman, the participants shifted the way he started to see the exhibition. Of the participants was a small group of students who came back repeatedly – Ethiopian students and students with ties to Ethiopia.

“After the painting was finished, I had all these small pictures that I wanted to install along the walls. I gave some of them to the students from Ethiopia to assemble and to figure out how to sequence them,” said Gottesman. “They came up with very different ways from how I had thought about sequencing them. It really added to the project and how the pictures were going to tell the story.”

Villarreal, who attended Gottesman’s lecture on his exhibition, said that in part, the purpose of the project was to “change the approach that photojournalism has to [Ethiopians], which propagates a very alien, distanced persona to these people” and “to make their actual lives shown and bring their own perceptions into how they want to be seen.”

Indeed, art is an important force in creating and showing the identity of not simply individuals but also of groups of people. Unfortunately for people like Villarreal, who view art as a huge part of their identity, there is no cohesive arts community to be immersed in at the College.

“Right now you can go to Marsh or the Zü for an arts community, but those are actually marginalized spaces at Amherst. If I want to do something artistic and want to be around people who thought the same way, then I can only take classes,” she said.

This is why she thinks the new Arts Committee, with its overarching goal of creating a safe and casual space for people of all arts backgrounds, is so important.

Other future projects that the Arts Committee is working on include getting student art in Schwemm’s and the new Frost Café to showcase the creative talent of Amherst students in more visible places, as well as creating a cement wall along Pond where people can put their handprints on and paint over. They are also trying to make music practice rooms more accessible. Meanwhile, Gottesman’s experience working with the students in his “Selections from ‘Sudden Flowers’” has led him to begin thinking of other projects he can do with students during the semester.

Amherst students clearly are not lacking in creativity, and there appears to be much demand for more outlets through which to express it. However, although there appears to be some discontent with the visibility (or lack thereof) of the arts at the College as of now, students will hopefully see the results of the Arts Committee’s efforts in the near future.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 03/09/2012 - 02:08

Great article! I like to see there's movement toward getting a more cohesive art identity on campus.