From left, Cecilia Wright ’16, Dylan Limoges ’17, Jane Hsu of the New Museum, Maggie Kase ’17 and Joe O'Neil ’17
Diverse classes visit NYC to view Middle East exhibit
Events in the Middle East are on the forefront of global happenings and part of the discussion at MCLA. Here, students consider many aspects of this region through events such last week’s talk by a United Nations expert on “ISIS and the Implications for the International Community,” and courses like “Peoples of the Middle East” (anthropology), “Modern Middle East” (political science) and even “Museum Studies” (arts management).
Recently, students from all three of these classes got together and headed to New York City to visit the New Museum and its “Here and Elsewhere” exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab world.
After she learned of the exhibition, which included the work of 40 artists from more than 15 countries, anthropology professor Dr. Sumi Colligan decided to join forces with political science professor Dr. Robert Bence and arts management professor Dr. Lisa Donovan to bring their students to the New Museum.
In addition to their art, the artists featured in “Here and Elsewhere” shared their own personal insights, experiences and commentaries on specific cultural traditions or events in the Middle East.
“I was interested in the field trip for my class specifically because anthropologists are expected to examine the world from an insider’s perspective, from the point of view of the group or groups who are being studied,” Colligan said.
Bence wanted to include his students because artists deal with human, universal issues.
“Too often we view the Middle East as frozen in time, when it is part of the global world. Arab artists like those in the West employ a variety of techniques to explore their surroundings and make statements,” Bence said.
By combining pivotal and under-recognized figures with younger and midcareer artists, “Here and Elsewhere” worked against the idea that people and countries belonging to the Arab world are the same. Through the individualized practices of a multigenerational group of artists, the exhibition highlighted works that often had conceptual or aesthetic references to the Arab world.
“What I found for my students was that, because we’re involved in a museum studies class, we were looking through a different lens, not just about the exhibit but also about the choices that the curators and the museum staff made,” Donovan said.
“With the design, you move through the rooms for a full sensory experience,” she explained. “In every room you had artwork to look at, but you also heard voices, someone being interviewed. You heard music. So, all of your senses were really engaged.”
Bence said his students connected sympathetically with many of the images, photos and videos on display.
“They gave a ‘human face’ to the joys and pain of living in various parts of the Middle East. The exhibit helped counteract the simplistic stereo types with which we too often view the region,” he said.
In addition to making potentially expensive field trips affordable, bringing students from different classes on the same field trip allows those who attend to exchange their diverse perspectives, Colligan said.
Donovan agreed. “It was a very nice cross-pollinization of students.”