Great hardships imply fear, self-reflection, worry, and confusion. Great hardships can also imply a deeper sense of unity and sympathy amongst one another. Ultimately, times of struggle activate a sometimes uncontrollable amount of feelings — both good and bad. It is through this overwhelming amount of emotion in which great art and activism emerge.
“Tell Us How UC It: A Living Archive” is a collaborative exhibit of student artwork created by the UCSD Library. The archive aims to “highlight awareness, provide a space for dialogue, preserve and document events that have affected the UCSD campus climate and/or incidents that have targeted specific underrepresented groups.” Through artforms such as poetry, photography, comics, and drawings, “Tell Us How UC It” illuminates the diverse student experiences in response to the current political and campus climate.
Upon entering the exhibit, you are introduced to an extensive timeline of UCSD’s history. The large panels briefly describe world and campus news events while highlighting certain moments that initiated student action. The timeline begins with the establishment of UCSD and ends with UC President Janet Napolitano’s statement on the importance of diversity amongst universities. Through this timeline, we see that our campus has a long history of student resistance. The structure and extent of the timeline reminds us that our resistance has come in many forms: demonstrations, conferences, the establishment of different resource centers, art, memorials and even self-immolation.
Along with the timeline, “Tell Us How UC It” showcases a variety of different student art pieces. Submissions were gathered through general marketing strategies and through collaborations with courses VIS105A and Culture, Art, and Technology (CAT) 1.
Some students chose to express themselves through writing. “Chalked,” an anonymous poetry piece, speaks of the anonymity behind chalkings, possibly in response to the pro-Trump graffiti in April 2016. “Chalked” critiques the university as a place of “conscious fear of association with one’s ideas” while feeding into this fear through the intentional use of an anonymous author. With UCSD powerfully labeled as “a microcosm for America,” the author melds college culture with a need to establish social control over “outsiders.” Driven by apparent frustration, the author finally describes the students who produced these chalkings as “‘grown up’ children.”
Other students told their experiences through comics. One comic entitled “Diversity” questions the basis of diversity: Is diversity defined by phenotype and racial association? If so, there’s a problem. The author criticizes the classification of certain races as too simplistic by telling the story of an aspiring doctor who is Laotian-American. Laotian-Americans are the most underrepresented population in modern-day medicine, yet due to the lack of emphasis on Asian subgroups (like Laotian-American) , this doctor falls under the umbrella of “Asian doctor.” Simply categorizing an ethnically diverse population of individuals as “Asian” emphasizes an idea of homogeneity — even amongst their struggles. After narrating short, yet effective stories of racial identity, the author concludes by stating: “Skin color can be a useful tool in helping us identify ‘diversity.’ But it isn’t the only one. Class, gender, disability… there are many. To examine diversity is to examine these intersectionalities.”
UCSD student Kim Luong decided to share her story through an art piece called “UC Socially Divided?” Luong describes her art piece as displaying “the fragmentation and division between races within this campus while also exemplifying the unity that the student body can create.” Luong laments the current political situation by directly calling to her fellow peoples of color (POC), yet further inspires them to “come together to produce effective and positive changes.”
Resembling a colorful sketchbook drawing, “UC Socially Divided?” has three sketches of faces alongside scattered text. The faces show no expression while the text expresses distress and sadness. The journal entry in the middle reads, “My whole life I’ve been in the minority. The Asian rarity in a sea of white. Coming to UCSD was a culture shock- a place where people look like me? Unimaginable. Though, here the majority is still somehow the minority. Model minority. Expected to stay in our place.”
Along with the physical exhibit, the complete “Tell Us How UC It” archive can be found online. Here, viewers can easily access individual student art pieces, read through old UCSD newspaper publications, and watch a full panel discussion called “From Crisis to Change: The Student Experience & Activism on Campus.” This discussion includes staff, faculty, and alumni speaking of their personal experiences as activists while hypothesizing their theories of change.
Student-led action must not be forgotten. Student sentiment must not be disregarded. “Tell Us How UC It” combines UCSD’s history of activism with current student’s feelings to produce a truly living archive that facilitates conversation and coalition at a pivotal point in both our campus’ and country’s history.
The exhibit is located on the second floor of Geisel, and will be up until March 31st.
Ana Magallanes is the Arts and Entertainment editor for The Triton. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.