New Course Explores Art, Activism, and Social Justice Connections

Looking for a thought-provoking art course that goes way deeper than looking at paintings? Sacred Heart University now offers a course called AR-107: Art, Activism and Social Justice.

The class takes different works of art and applies it to real world topics. It is offered all semesters, all years, making it an option to take at any point in a SHU student’s college experience.

“This course examines art that shapes culture, builds community and creates social transformation,” according to the course description on the university’s Student Planning and Advising website. “We study art that challenges the status quo and art practice that enters the world of activism.”

“This class is important because it creates a space where students can understand why art is a language,” said Prof. Luciana McClure, who teaches the course. “Art has been at the center of political upheaval and has challenged all the ways we even think and define what art is, who it is for and who gets to create it.”

Junior Samantha Cunniff, a studio art major, agrees that courses like Art, Activism and Social Justice are very important to any college student’s education.

“Art in all forms has the ability to portray powerful messages and visualize emotions for an audience,” said Cunniff. “By associating artwork to real world topics and social issues, it shines a light on subjects that should not go unheard, or in this case, unseen.”

McClure makes sure to keep the course content engaging by bringing in artists to discuss their work. She decided to bring in artist and activist Aliza Shvarts to speak to the class on March 14 via Zoom to educate students on the projects she’s created about social issues such as labor and language with a queer and feminist approach, some of McClure’s favorite topics.

An article titled “A Conversation with Aliza Shvarts,” was given to students to read to get a better understanding of the artist before she came to speak to the class. In the article, Shvarts was interviewed by Emily Apter about a couple of her projects over the years.

“‘Banners’ began with my own experience of overexposure. The first banner is an article I wrote in 2008 for my college newspaper explaining my senior thesis project for the Art major, ‘Untitled [Senior Thesis],’” said Shvarts. “The piece had gone viral on the Internet and was being widely reported on by various national and international media outlets—usually sensationally and incorrectly. I wrote the article in the midst of all this, naively thinking that I could clarify what the piece actually entailed.”

Shvarts shed light on how the overexposure and false analysis of her essay seriously affected her.

“When a piece of art brings attention to social issues, it can present a shock factor, as well as allow for people to draw conclusions and decide how they will react to what is in front of them,” said Cunniff.

Although AR-107 is the first course of its kind at SHU, the reception has been positive. McClure’s dynamic approach to teaching it with guest artists is to help her students grasp the lessons being taught.

“The biggest takeaway was how engaged and excited students were to learn about her story and artistic practice, while becoming educated into the larger discourse of feminist and queer art in America,” said McClure. “It was an inspiring visit.”

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