Expression necessary to evolution: Emerson community members respond to election with art

by Natalie Busch / Beacon Staff • November 17, 2016

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You the People still by Alex Monto
Courtesy of Alex Monto
You the People still by Alex Monto
Courtesy of Alex Monto

Donald Trump’s 2016 United States presidential election victory sparked protests across the country. But on Emerson’s campus, the election result also inspired art of all kinds. Perhaps this is unsurprising for a college with a motto of “Expression Necessary to Evolution.” The Beacon spoke to different members of our community of artists to discuss how they are using art in the aftermath of the election.

 

The House of Bernarda Alba

Damon Krometis, an affiliated faculty member in the performing arts department, recently directed the Emerson Stage production of The House of Bernarda Alba, which ran from November 10–13. In the play, the titular character keeps her five daughters locked inside the house and under her strict and oppressive rule. Krometis said there were clear parallels to the election that he addressed early on.

“I wanted to approach the production from the get-go to talk about the walls we build between ourselves, the intolerance that festers, and the sheer amount of damage that those things can produce in a society if we never find a way to actually communicate with each other,” Krometis said.

But when the actual results were revealed and Donald Trump was announced as the president-elect, Krometis said, the similarities between the play and the election became more visceral.

“We all sort of hoped that this would be a commentary on a world that was not going to be realized,” Krometis said. “And we woke up Wednesday morning wondering if our world was headed down the road towards what this play examines.”

Krometis said he hopes that audiences left the performances realizing the danger of putting up barriers and walls.

“I hope people will just remember that there’s nothing to be gained from just going into our own bunkers, that the very difficult messy work of democracy exists in us continuing to communicate, to have the difficult conversations that often get avoided in the play,” Krometis said. “If nothing else, I hope it’s a warning of what could come if we just build more walls.”

 

The Five Stages of the Election

After the election, Madeleine Derveloy, a junior interdisciplinary major, said one of her professors addressed her class and said, “You’re artists. You make art. What do you do now?”

Derveloy said she decided to interview people about their thoughts and feelings on the election and use their responses to create a documentary theater piece. Derveloy said she hopes to produce the play, titled The Five Stages of the Election, next semester.

“The goal is to heal and start the conversation, but also to give an insight into what it’s like for both sides,” Derveloy said. “I think that understanding both sides is really important in stopping the hatred.”

Derveloy said theater is a great way for people to express, heal, and connect. She said one particular interview stood out to her for highlighting the power of art.

“At the end, he said it was like a therapy session, and I think that’s exactly what I want to go for,” Derveloy said. “He said a lot of great things which will definitely inspire what I want to say with my theater piece, but I think just that moment of healing was really impactful.”

Derveloy, who is still interviewing subjects, said it’s been harder to find conservatives to speak to on such a liberal campus. She said that the interviews are a safe space and that her piece is about understanding, not judging.

“Any kind of art form really helps people express their bottled-up emotions and it also gives the opportunity for us to learn,” Derveloy said. “And I think that’s really important when the world is where it is, because if you’re so close minded, we’re not going to get anywhere. And I think art is one of those things that opens people up.”
 
 

You, The People

When Alex Monto, a junior visual and media arts major, heard about the Wednesday night protest in downtown Boston, he said, he instantly knew it needed to be recorded. He took his camera to the event and released “You, The People,” a two-minute video capturing the protest, on Vimeo the next day.

Monto said he strictly avoided political footage, like shots of “Down With Trump” signs, in favor of clips of people smiling, high fiving, and holding “United Against Hate” signs.

“Politics inherently divides people,” Monto said. “I wanted to bring us together. I wanted to empower people, I wanted to inspire people, and I wanted to show that we don’t need to be divided, that we can all come together, and whatever we may believe in that we can accept one another and get through this time.”

To accompany the visuals, Monto chose portions of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator. Monto said he chose that audio specifically because it does not prioritize the leader.

“It places emphasis on the people and how we shouldn’t focus on this one icon, that we should focus on ourselves and our fellow citizens, our friends, our family, that we should focus on the community,” Monto said. “No matter what happens, if we stand together, then we have the power to make a change.”

Monto said that art allows for emotional expression and is capable of fostering human connection.

“It allows us to connect with one another through feeling rather than facts and statistics,” Monto said. “Obviously, you’re going to learn a lot more from [a textbook] than from my video. But from the video you get to feel what’s happening, you get to see what happened at that time.”

Monto said documentation through art is crucial to keeping movements alive.

“Participating in the protest is ephemeral,” Monto said. “Your participation only exists for the duration of the protest. Capturing it through art, through photography, through film, gives it a life outside of that protest.”

 

Not My Beast to Claim

The day after the election, Flawless Brown Writes, the writing department of Flawless Brown, began publishing poems written by women of color in response to the election. The group announced the series with a statement on their Facebook page: “Art matters. Art heals. We will not be silenced.”

Rraine Hanson, a junior visual and media arts major, was one of many students to contribute a poem to Flawless Brown’s blog. Hanson said her poem was inspired by the helplessness she felt following the outcome of the election.

“For certain people these things are just news topics, but for people of color this is something that directly affects our lives,” Hanson said.

Hanson said the title of the poem, “Not My Beast To Claim,” referred to a crucial insight that she had.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned in my recent years is that it’s not the job of marginalized groups to get rid of their oppression,” Hanson said.

One line of the poem reads, “they cannot get rid of us,” which Hanson said refers to the resilience of marginalized groups.

“So many times, oppressors have tried to dominate or suppress or get rid of these groups of people, but it’s impossible,” Hanson said. “It’s kind of a comforting thought to think that even if you get rid of me specifically as a queer black woman, there still will be queer black people.”
 
Hanson ends the poem with the simple statement, “this will not be his revolution.”
 

“In the same way that I do not claim [Trump], he cannot take the revolution from me as well,” Hanson said. “But it’s also saying that his presidency will not become this revolution that he wants.”

Hanson said that books, movies, poems, and other forms of art inform our view of life and society.
 
“[Art] is how you understand your place in the world and the world around you,” Hanson said. “And so the best way to combat problematic ways of thinking is through those same mediums because they’re so effective. For me, that’s why I’m spending money to be at film school and making this effort to tell these stories.”

 

The Beacon is interested in hearing from other members of the Emerson Community who are using art to respond to the election. If you have any leads, contact deputy arts editor Natalie Busch at natalie_busch@emerson.edu.