From journalistic snapshots of people crossing the US-Mexico border to portraits of Syrian refugee life jackets floating in Greek waters, visual depictions of the migrant experience are varied in form and content – a lesson that students of Spanish 150: Migration and Border-Crossing in Film and Photography, taught this semester by Professor Raquel Vega-Durán, are very familiar. The 16 students in the class created their own on-campus art exhibit distilling broader lesson themes about borders and exploring diverse narratives of migration, presented from April 25 to May 6.
Adorning the walls of the Ticknor Lounge on the first floor of Boylston Hall, the exhibition consists of several projects. Along with collages of works highlighting the experience of migrants in five distinct mediums – animated films, narrative films, documentary films, children’s literature and graphic novels – visitors can find selected examples of visual culture with captions written by students. Additionally, each student created their own physical representation of a concept relevant to the exhibit, such as hope, vulnerability, and invisibility, which course leader Vega-Durán compiled into a quilt. The quilt is accompanied by poems selected from text that students read for the course to develop their individual concepts.
The exhibition attempts to analyze the perpetual “image bombardment” we consume regarding migration, according to Vega-Durán, who chairs the faculty’s Advisory Committee for Ethnicity, Migration and Rights (EMR) – a secondary field proposed by Harvard.
“What do we have all the time?” We are exposed to visual culture all the time. I think people take for granted… all the different languages of visual culture,” Vega-Durán said. “You have to understand how to read the images.”
While the exhibit was a collaborative effort among all class members, the students were largely self-guided. Drawing inspiration from the works of outside artists selected for the exhibition, which span photography, watercolor and sculpture, among other mediums, students used both drawing and digital art to create their squares. quilt.
“Everyone has such different ideas, such different experiences, such different visual narratives that they want to convey with their specific word,” said Maria V. Kaltchenko ’23, a high school student in Romance languages and literatures enrolled in the course. . She chose “emigrant/immigrant” as the concept for the quilt.
To deepen the dialogue at the intersection of visual studies and EMR, Spanish 150 hosted several guest speakers to talk about their work with students, including Mexican-born activist and artist Arleene Correa Valencia, whose work is also presented in the exhibition. Correa Valencia sees art as a liberating vehicle for discussion.
“Visual arts are a way to communicate without needing to have a spoken language or a method of communication that limits certain audiences,” Correa Valencia said in an interview with The Crimson. “And when we bring that into an academic space, it’s a tool for a different perspective, to understand information from a point of view that’s not necessarily traditional in academia or digital in any way.”
Vega-Durán explained that while the scope of the project was initially limited to migration from Spanish-speaking countries to the United States, the class quickly realized that the exhibit would benefit from hosting more global narratives – a choice that reflects engaging the class in considering new viewpoints. Capturing the experience of migrants should not be a limited effort: in the words of Correa Valencia, art “has the power to cross borders”.
While Vega-Durán argues that small class sizes are necessary to promote discussion, she hopes Harvard will continue to expand the EMR program. While many peer institutions have not done so either, 70 schools across the country – including Columbia University, University of Chicago and Stanford University – have already committed their resources to research departments. ethnic studies. Promoting EMR at Harvard will require support across all academic fields.
“It’s complex to think about: how can you have an interdisciplinary department or concentration in a place where you have divisions?” said Vega-Durán. “My goal is to make EMR interdisciplinary. So, not having five different methodologies and courses and saying “OK, I have my high school”. But, ‘How are they connected? How do we understand migration globally or transnationally? »
Correa Valencia said she was surprised there was such an engaged audience for her story at Harvard. Vega-Durán said the popularity of secondary EMR has grown steadily recently – a beneficial development for both students and teachers.
“I think that’s the really great thing about the DME. You teach, but you also learn from the students and you have this stuff that is really fulfilling for everyone,” Vega-Durán said.
As for the students, their objective is to promote dialogue and encourage others to reflect on their personal relationship to the theme of migration.
“The immigrant experience cannot be homogenized. It’s so different for each person. This art basically shows us that there are universal elements present in migration that encapsulate what it means to be human,” Kalchenko said. “All of these parts of the exhibition are in conversation and I think the viewer is part of that conversation.”
Visitors can view the exhibit through May 6 at Boylston Hall, located in Harvard Yard.
—Editor Charles W. McCormick can be reached at @[email protected]