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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘DEIS Impact event shows the importance of pluralism

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Brandeis Pluralism Alliance sponsored an exhibit for ’DEIS Impact titled “Pluralism, Unity, Social Justice and the Arts: An Art Exhibition” from Feb. 1 through Feb. 5. The reception for the event was held in the SCC on Feb. 4. Brandeis Pluralism Alliance (BPA) is an organization on campus that promotes unity through sponsoring events and programs that promote partnerships and allow students to think about identity and community. The event included five poets: Rawda Aljawhary ’14, Damiana Andonova ’15, Rachel LeWitt, Cory Massaro ’14 and Bronte Velez ’16. After their performances, the audience experienced something new with musician Theo Goetemann’s ’17 innovative song, “Arnold Palmer: Half Iced Tea & Half Lemonade,” which included all types of different sounds to reflect the diversity and cooperation required in any community.

BPA defines pluralism as “a social condition in which disparate religious, ethnic and racial groups are part of a common community.” At this exhibition, students and staff were able to illustrate their interpretations of this concept, through various media of art. BPA will award up to three prizes to recognize outstanding works of art that best capture these themes based on viewers’ votes.

Many artists chose to express their feelings on the topic through classic art forms such as drawing and painting. One such artwork was Hatice Beyza Guc’s ’17 drawing titled “Social Justice” in which a hand that resembles the Earth has the words “social justice,” “pluralism” and “unity” inscribed in it. The map-like design of the hand represents the world population, and the drawing overall emphasizes the importance of the exhibit’s concepts on a universal and global level.

Across the room was Mary Santana’s ’16 drawing “Heart.” In the description of her drawing, the artist explains that her sketch of a human heart incorporates the themes of the exhibit.

“We all pray to different gods, dress in different clothing, have different salaries and ideologies, but everyone has a heart,” she wrote. “The heart is a complex muscle made of intertwined chambers, valves, arteries, openings and pumps but it beats to the same rhythm in all bodies.”

Michelle Oberman ’17 illustrated pluralism, unity and social justice by portraying them in a specific situation and relating it to the more general concepts. In her piece titled “Peace in Any Language,” Oberman displays a pluralistic solution to conflicts in Israel by placing the word “peace” in Hebrew, Arabic and English on a landscape of Jerusalem. Oberman describes in her accompanying explanation, “The bottom line is that while the words for peace look different in the three languages, they all share a common meaning.”

As a viewer, Julia Goldberg ’17 commented on the incorporation of the three languages in this piece, which she felt really represented the general concept of pluralism. “I like how they’re all the same color in the three different languages because it symbolizes how all the different cultures can come together and unite and be peaceful,” Goldberg said.

All the works of art were displayed on the walls of the small room, including the incredible paintings and drawings done by Guc, Jennifer Mandelbaum ’14, Oberman, Ashley Oelbaum ’16, Santana and Fei Xu ’16. I never realized how one small painting of a building, for instance, the depiction of Science Complex (which, as the name suggests, accurately models Brandeis’ science building) or the calligraphy of the Hebrew and Arabic letters in the painting “Peace in Any Language” could wonderfully capture the concept of social justice.

Other artists decided to demonstrate their interpretations through more unconventional methods, such as song, poetry and photography. Goetemann wrote and performed a song called “Arnold Palmer: Half Iced Tea & Half Lemonade” to illustrate the coming together of various parts to make a whole. The song incorporates many different types of music and instruments, including Reggaeton drums, beatboxing and East Asian percussion. The song had everyone’s heads bobbing, as it contained many different exotic vibes and instruments, starting off with the tuni, part of the Indian culture, and then moving the rhythms with the tonbar, which then gives the music a tribal, zither-like tune. Goetemann explained that the song shows a coordination of obscure parts that each simultaneously “retain its distinctive element to the listener’s ear,” relating that to the concept of pluralism.

Multiple poems were included in the exhibition as well, including “First Drink,” a poem by LeWitt, which incorporates social justice by taking place after public drinking fountains were desegregated. LeWitt’s explanation reads, “It forces us, in some ways, to imagine what social justice or civil rights feels like: cool, very much correct, and above all, beautiful.”

Some of the art was done in a more intimate manner, using personal experiences to inspire and create the art. A particularly personal piece was Damiana Andonova’s ’15 photograph, “Krasimir,” which was described as being a self-portrait of the artist and Krasimir, a Roma baby in a Bulgarian hospital who was born prematurely and had an infection. The artist met the baby while interning last summer and was reprimanded by the nurses for picking up the “Gypsy” baby. In Andonova’s moving description of the photograph, she writes, “I thought, how could racism and inequality be condoned by those whose hands were trained to help?” She also discusses her belief that every baby deserves a hero’s welcome and that social justice starts in the delivery room. “Holding Krasimir despite the odd looks of nurses for me was the only thing I could do to make him feel treated like a hero,” she explained.

These works of art, and the many more included in the exhibition, all portrayed a similar theme of pluralism, peace and justice in unique ways. The coming together of the staff and students who produced these pieces of art to create a unified representation of these concepts represents pluralism in itself, which is exactly what BPA intended.

After viewing the artwork, Goldberg explained the impact that the exhibition had on how she views social justice. “I think it’s nice how social justice includes pluralism and unity because often we think of social justice in terms of just helping people,” she explained. “This exhibit shows us that coming together as one with all these different ideas can also be what social justice is all about.”