A Cure for the Common Lie #Syllabi

#Syllabi are born from tragedy; years of injusticeoppressionexclusivityinequalityhate and fear#Charlestonsyllabus#StandingRockSyllabus#ImmigrationSyllabus#TrumpSyllabus2.0 , #IslamophobiaIsRacismSyllabus#AllMonumentsMustFallSyllabus.

The voices I hear are those of which our nation’s leaders have failed to defend. I can hear them demonstrating as I read through various #syllabi’s timelines, blog posts, op-eds, articles, and abstracts. I don’t just hear one voice, but many characterized by strong, intelligent, and inclusive arguments.

The materials within #syllabi bolster one another, but this argument-building does not just occur within individual #syllabi, but across #syllabi — across movements. For instance, in the #StandingRockSyllabus is the article “Black Lives Matter Stands in Solidarity with Water Protectors at Standing Rock” when members of Black Lives Matter demonstrated alongside Indigenous Peoples in North Dakota in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline. In this way the#StandingRockSyllabus intersects with #BlackLivesMatterSyllabus. Within #syllabi we can also see instances of tension between movements, such as the arguments made in the section titled “How Feminism contributes to Anti-Muslim Racism” in the #IslamophobiaIsRacismSyllabus. In the article (Muslim) Women’s Bodies, Islamophobia, and American Politics the author Juliane Hammer discusses instances of hypocrisy in American neoconservative media and television personalities that call themselves feminist, such as CNN commentator Pamela Geller. In this way the #IslamophobiaIsRacismSyllabus intersects with #AWomen’sStrikeSyllabus.

Another instance we can consider is included in the #AllMonumentsMustFallSyllabus. In particular, I believe that the art world would benefit from the creation of more #syllabi. #AllMonumentsMustFallSyllabus pertains to Civil War monuments erected in public/civil spaces. In this instance “space” and who has control over public space is one of the fundamental issues regarding white male supremacy and patriarchy. For me, this issue not only concerns space that’s government property, but also space (indoor and outdoor) belonging to non-profit institutions, such as museums.

For example, the article “Artist Sam Durant was pressured into taking down his ‘Scaffold’ Why doesn’t he feel censored?” published by the Los Angeles Times was written after an artist from Los Angeles, Sam Durant, was invited by the Walker Art Center to exhibit his sculpture titled Scaffold (2012) in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that just so happens to be on “[historic] Dakota land” earlier this year. To read more about the history of the land and the Mankato Massacre please refer to “‘A Seed of Healing and Change’: Native Americans Respond to Sam Durant’s ‘Scaffold’” by Sheila Dickinson for Art News. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times Durant stated:

“So the Dakota people basically saw something that looked like a monument to their massacre. Mankato is burned into their consciousness. It’s not abstract. As one person said to me, “That’s a killing machine.” Then it turns out that the garden is located on [historic] Dakota land. So you couldn’t have a better test case of white ignorance in one place.”

In a letter released by the Walker Art Center (perhaps on the behalf of the Walker’s director Olga Viso) titled, “Learning in Public: An Open Letter on Sam Durant’s Scaffold” the Walker stated:

“It is my hope that this moment will foster critical and productive conversations around the complex questions the artist brings forth. I also intend that it provoke discussion about how the Walker can strive to be a more sensitive and inclusive institution. This is a deep learning moment—and will not be the last—for the Walker and its relationship with Native audiences. I pledge that we will continue to learn actively, and in public, and to create pathways for listening and supporting the full range of conversations that this work will engender as they evolve in the weeks and months ahead.”

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(image above: Director of the Walker Art Center Olga Viso (left) and artist Sam Durant (right). 

The examples I have listed above underscore the fact that white male supremacists are not the only ones who these #syllabi are created in response to, but privileged women who hold positions of power and influence also contribute to systematic injustice and inequality in the United States. I see these intersections between #syllabi as points where progress can be made from within and across movements because they function as invitations to listen, reflect, and correct. Hopefully in the years to come more and more people in various disciplines will begin to start their own #syllabi so that we can begin to understand and identify on a broader scale how inequality and discrimination is systematically ubiquitous.

I would like to see more #syllabi for topics in all fields of study especially in the humanities and the arts. In my filed of study (Contemporary Art History) we would especially benefit from a #syllabus pertaining to American museum collection practices and exhibition histories because of the traditional hierarchies that exist in the arts.

For example, the current series of exhibitions called Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA are now up throughout Southern California (including Santa Barbara) from September 2017 until January 2018.

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Organized by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles PST LA/LA presents exhibitions based on the influence Latin America and Latino art/culture has had on Southern California and the dialogues that exist across boarders. The aim of these exhibitions is to promote artists from other countries and exhibit art in context with artists from different countries. In most cases the artists included in these exhibitions have never had their artwork exhibited in California or the greater United States. Although there is a page for teachers on PST LA/LA’s website, this exhibition could also benefit from its own #syllabus. This hypothetical #syllabus would possibly intersect with #ImmigrationSyllabusThe art world needs more #syllabi because exhibitions build on each other like articles in journals do. It is also important to note that museum catalogs, reviews, and articles seem to be costly and hard to come by. Access is not always equal and people who don’t have regular access to a university library or internet access for that matter miss out.

As my examples above illustrate, there would be a lot of overlap in the #syllabi of the art world, which I hope would not only foster more interdisciplinary work and communication, but also a better understanding overall of where we are at. As Lisa A. Monroe pointed out in her post “Making the American Syllabus: Hashtag Syllabi in Historical Perspective” for the in Black Perspectives Journal, #syllabi have sprung from a long history communities taking it upon themselves to self-educate. Monroe describes the goal of #syllabi is “to arm educators and parents with resources to discuss current social conflicts, to provide historical contexts for racial terrorism and for academic activism, and to empower people in and outside of the classroom to take informed action however they may choose.” In this way #syllabi combats the problems that come along with the proliferation of media, such as fake news because they are transparently ran and organized by networks of scholars, activists, and people across disciplines.

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6 thoughts on “A Cure for the Common Lie #Syllabi

  1. It only came to me today, but there are so many iterations of schools and educational practices as artworks in contemporary art. For one, The Schoolhouse and the Bus, a current exhibition in our own Art, Design and Architecture Museum, as part of the PST: LA/LA. It chronicles two projects: La Escuela Panamericana del Desasosiego, by Pablo Helguera, and The Skin of Memory (La Piel del Memoria) Revisited by Suzanne Lacy in collaboration with Pilar Riaño-Alcalá. I also recall Tania Bruguera’s Behavior Art School (Cátedra Arte de Conducta) and Pedro G. Romero’s La Escuela Moderna. I found this post with other examples, geared towards art schools: http://createquity.com/2012/12/the-art-school-as-artwork/

    Besides being concerned with pedagogy for art classes, there are a few artists and researchers interested in pedagogy itself as a work of art. Most of the works cited above are autonomous initiatives, experimenting with different methodologies to engage and mobilize people from varied backgrounds in communal learning. It is unclear if any of these efforts resulted in a syllabus, but their process of self-education resonates with the idea of the hashtag syllabus, but in an analogical site-specific framework. The hashtag syllabus is certainly a concept to exercise in the art world — I would love to see a #CensorshipSyllabus in light of the recent events in Brazil, for example, or maybe a #OldMistressesSylabus to discuss women artists!

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  2. In my undergrad I was in the journalism program at the University of Missouri. In reading this article, I think that the journalism field would be another (in addition to your ideas about the arts and humanities) that could seriously benefit from a new hashtag syllabus. We had one (one!) class on “cross-cultural journalism” which was meant to be basically a class on how to report on controversial issues around race, gender, sexuality, etc. This class, when I took it, was wildly inadequate. Imagine a generation of journalists having access to a crowdsourced and intersectional hashtag syllabus on all kinds of issues that allowed for their reporting to work to the public good. Or, at least, I’d love a generation of journalism professors who have access to a lot of resources to improve these classes and hopefully add more that work to improve media and journalism’s handling of issues (as well as push news organizations to hire more women, people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and people at intersections of each of these identities and more).

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  3. I would agree that calls for greater and deeper social engagement—and the pedagogical means thereof—are quite crucial in any number of areas, if not all of them. Yet, I think that offers of education must contend not merely with issues of accessibility, but also the studied anti-academicism that we encounter all to often. There is a great impetus within public discourse(s) that relegates scholarly matters to the academy; it is a pity that scholars themselves have sometimes submitted to this pressure. However, as I have noted elsewhere, we should see the hashtag syllabus as a move forward, but one whose influence is relational to its reception. For critical discourse to engage its audience to its greatest potential requires, I fear, greater structural changes in how academics are viewed—a change that does not exclusively fall under the scholar’s purview. I would be curious, then, to discuss how to reposition the terms of the engagement in light of the above.

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  4. The various intersections at which the various #Syllabi meet and interact are vital to the continuance and success of the form. If we are to believe that this educational tool can be a viable supplement to educations lacking social awareness, then the #Syllabus must not exist in its own isolated cause, but rather engage with a greater community of social scholarship. As you mentioned, the arts and humanities posses the potential to “foster more interdisciplinary work and communication, but also a better understanding overall of where we are at,” which makes them a critical resource in promoting forms such as the #Syllabus in order to provide educational resources for a mass audience.

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  5. At the risk of playing favorites, your comments on the junctions between various forms of oppression make me think that Kimberle Crenshaw’s writing on intersectionality should be included, no matter the #syllabus’ subject.

    I also think of organizations like Culture Push, whose Fellowship for Utopian Practice has supported artists creating “radical free libraries celebrating the history and work of black women,” making crowd-sourced maps, and supporting other forms of communal knowledge formation and accessibility.

    http://www.culturepush.org/about-fellowships/

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  6. It was interesting that you mentioned the LA/LA project at the Getty, and specifically the current museum exhibition, The Schoolhouse and the Bus. I’m currently taking a class about the era post-NAFTA and included on the syllabus is the LA/LA project. I, too, think that a histories of curation and museum collecting syllabus would be amazing. The interdisciplinary nature of museum collections and institutions with other fields could produce fascinating accounts and histories that have yet to be told.

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