New Muir College Art Piece to Celebrate LGBTQIA+ and Indigenous Community

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Photo courtesy of The Triton.

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Muir College is installing a 3-D metal art piece titled When the World Comes to Life this winter. The initiative was spearheaded by former Associated Students Muir College Senators Alexandra Harbert and Roy Velasquez.

The artistic renovation will be bolted to the Stewart Commons Wall, between Middle of Muir and Muir’s community garden.

“Determining the location was a little difficult because many buildings in Muir are historically preserved and cannot be altered,” said Harbert. “We got very lucky in finding a location [and] working with the owners of the building.”

The senators explained that they selected the project’s theme around Muir values and community.

“We first thought of [the art piece] surrounding Muir College’s motto, ‘celebrating the independent spirit,’ and [tied] that into themes of the body, the self, and sexuality, since the LGBTQIA+ Living Learning Community is located within Muir,” said Velasquez.

After brainstorming alongside the interns at the LGBTQIA+ Resource Center, Harbert and Velasquez agreed that the art piece would not only pay homage to the students involved at the center, but touch on the idea of sustainable communities. Named after famous environmentalist John Muir, the college holds environmental sustainability as one of its core focuses.

In addition, Harbert and Velasquez believed that it was crucial for the piece to acknowledge that UC San Diego was built upon Kumeyaay land. To fulfill this goal, they visited the on-campus Intertribal Resource Center to seek out artists from the Kumeyaay tribe. After explaining the goals of the art piece to Elena Hood, inaugural director of the Intertribal Resource Center, and Stan Rodriguez, a member of the Kumeyaay tribe, Rodriguez recommended that they contact Kumeyaay artist Johnny Bear.

“Roy and I were really excited because we had been looking for a Kumeyaay artist and had trouble finding one on our own. We contacted [Johnny Bear] and met within a month, and he was as excited as we were,” Harbert said.

Although his work will be new to UCSD, this is not Johnny Bear’s first time creating art on a college campus. In September 2017, The University of San Diego opened its Kumeyaay Garden, which featured one of Johnny Bear’s original sculptures. He has also exhibited sculptures at Poway City Hall.

When the World Comes to Life will be made up of two rectangles standing upright, connected by branch-like metal. One rectangle will feature intertwined bodies.

“The bodies will be clearly male on one side and female on the other side. As the bodies come closer to meet in the middle, they will become more androgynous. This represents family, communities, and the gender spectrum,” said Harbert.

The other rectangle will showcase traditional Kumeyaay gourd players and bird singers engaging in an indigenous celebration. Marine plants like kelp and aquatic flowers will be placed in between the figures, emphasizing the theme of sustainability.

The expected completion date of When the World Comes to Life is in June 2019.

Emily Beihold was formerly the Assistant Arts and Culture Editor for The Triton.