Photo Courtesy of Carol Drake

Left: African American History since 1877 (HIS 216) course instructor Karen Sotiropolous, Ph.D. and teaching assistant Carol Drake present the artwork of students Riley Habyl, Donald Swift and Tamitha Cuevas. Middle: Brittany Ozanich’s original acrylic painting depicts a scene at The Cotton Club in New York City during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. The painting was part of “The Art of Resistence,” a project involving student-made protest art. Right: One of the six students of the African American History since 1877 course, Donald Swift, freshman journalism and promotional communication major, participated in “The Art of Resistance.” The art project was exhibited April 21 at the annual history banquet.



May 9, 2017

HIS 216 students create protest art

Poems exploring the Harlem Renaissance-of the 1920s, paintings depicting lynching, and collages of primary documents added an artistic dimension to the annual history department banquet on Friday, April 21.

The exhibition was part of a student art project called “The Art of Resistance,” which involved six students enrolled in HIS 216 (African American History since 1877).

Karen Sotiropolous, Ph.D., instructor of the course, explained that a six students were tasked with expressing their reactions to historical events through the perspective of fictional characters.

“What they’re doing [is] imagining [themselves] as artists of the day representing the particular moment through poetry and incorporating their artwork with some primary source documents and images to set the historical context,” Sotiropolous said.

Student artists included Brittany Ozanich, Donald Swift, Marissa Vitalone, Riley Habyl, Tamitha Cuevas and Mike Gornik. Five of the students created posters incorporating primary sources and their own original artwork into collages, while Ozanich contributed two acrylic paintings.

Habyl, a freshman anthropology and history major, created a collage focusing on the Black Panther Party and women’s suffrage. She further explained that adding a visual dimension complemented her understanding of the course content.

“Doing this project, doing a lot of the research, and the hands-on aspect [have] deepened my understanding of the importance of the various ways that people have protested throughout history and the importance of individuals and what they contribute to overall causes,” Habyl said.

Habyl added that her artistic motivation was to inspire people to consider how history relates to the present.

“I suppose I’m just trying to get people to think and meditate on the fact that you look back at history, and history isn’t just something that only applied to 200 years ago,” Habyl said. “This is something that’s relevant now and that is continuous, and that things that happened in the past have had lasting effects on the future.”

The group met weekly throughout the semester to look through primary sources for inspiration for their work. The assignment served as a substitution for the in-class portion of the final course exam.

Carol Drake, a master’s history student specializing in museum studies, led the project as Sotiropolous’s teaching assistant.

Drake explained that the idea for the project organically evolved after she attended the Women’s March on Washington in D.C. in January, where many protest signs inspired her.

“I thought, ‘I wonder what the students in [Sotiropolous’s] class, if they were here, what would they come up with?’” Drake said.

Afterward, Drake and Sotiropolous gave students a homework assignment in which they drew protest signs which they imagined themselves holding in 1865. The assignment further evolved into a digital, and ultimately a physical, art exhibition.

“The idea is for students to create works of art, protest art,” Drake said. “They’re pretending as if they’d go back in a time machine. You set the dial to whatever important part of African American history you want to go to. And you go back there and you’re not just observing it, but I want you to live it, breathe it and feel it.” .



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