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‘Unsilenced:’ confronting the weight of language

November 16, 2018

Ezra Sunshine

In order to fully understand a person, you need to dig—a theme that Arah Kang ’19 explores, in the exhibition “Unsilenced,” located in Lamarche Gallery in David Saul Smith Union. The show visually explores the complexities of personhood by juxtaposing the weight of biased phrases with pictures of students expressing what makes them whole and happy.

Hanging from the ceiling, a sea of bricks carrying hate-driven experiences or words fill the room. After moving beyond the bricks, the wall is covered with more than 100 photos of students holding a whiteboard with their answer to the question “what makes you whole and happy as a person?”

“The way the exhibit is set up, you have to walk through the bricks to recognize that this is someone’s everyday reality. You have to face the comments in order to understand the real them,” Kang said.

The bricks serve as a symbol of the power and weight of words. While the impact of the language is clear through the image of bricks, the photos show that people are more than labels. The collage of photos show there are more facets to a person than identity groups.

“Weighted comments do not define a person, which is what you see when you go through the bricks and see the posters of people answering the question,” Kang said.

Kang hopes the exhibit raises awareness of the phrases and words that Bowdoin community has encountered with biased language—something that she has experienced first-hand.

“In my 22 years of existence, every time I hear hate, it never gets any better,” she said. “It is still this piercing feeling you can never get rid of. That sticks with someone for life. It is important to recognize how impactful that is and how it shapes the way people view you.”

While there has been an uptick in biased language nationwide, Kang intentionally focused on experiences shared from the Bowdoin community.

“I’ve seen more issues coming up and I want people to be more cognizant of what people do and say. I don’t want marginalizing and oppressive words and behavior to be normalized,” Kang said.

With recently reported bias incidents such as the swastika found in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and anti-trans graffiti found in a bathroom in Smith Union, “Unsilenced” is extremely timely. An honors by Pamela Zebala ’17 found that major bias incidents occur on college campuses every three and a half years. This year is the three-and-half-year mark of the Gangster and Tequila parties. The exhibit serves as a proactive measure towards future incidents.

The enthusiasm among the student body in contributing to the exhibit proves that the effect of marginalizing words is a common experience on campus. Kang reached out to people on campus whose identities may have been marginalized by others on campus, and over 100 students responded to participate.

“This is important to me because stuff like this is happening at Bowdoin. They are not just fragments of the past,” said Ryan Ali-Shaw ’19.

Kang hopes that student involvement in the exhibit will not be limited to its curation. When choosing a place to display her art, Lamarche Gallery seemed like a logical choice. Nestled in the hub of student activity, the gallery is visible and accessible to all students. The location encourages students to interact with the exhibit on their own terms.

Kang’s exhibit is sponsored by Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and is part of No Hate November programming. The exhibit works towards BSG Chair of Diversity and Inclusion Mamadou Diaw’s ’19 goal to engage the student body in No Hate November.

“Unsilenced” will be on display until December 18. There will be an opening reception tonight in Lamarche Gallery at 7 p.m.


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