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This year’s UPRISING art exhibition highlights ‘Blackness Unbounded’

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“Blackness Unbounded” is the theme of the sixth annual UPRISING art exhibition at St. Olaf College. 

UPRISING is a student-curated exhibit that narrates the experiences of Black people and celebrates Black history, culture, and identity through the visual and performing arts. This year’s exhibit, which runs through March 3 in the Groot Gallery of Flaten Art Museum, was curated by Leila Rocha Fisher ’23, Ramos Lenyatsa ’23, Ruhama Solomon ’24, and Eva “Queenie” Wynter ’25. It is open to the public.

Curators of this year's UPRISING exhibit include (from left) Eva "Queenie" Wynter '25, Leila Rocha Fisher '23, and Ruhama Solomon '24.
Curators of this year’s UPRISING exhibit include (from left) Eva “Queenie” Wynter ’25, Leila Rocha Fisher ’23, and Ruhama Solomon ’24.

Solomon says the theme for UPRISING VI focuses on the individual and highlights that within the Black community, “there are no chains or strings attached.” 

“As people, we ask ourselves ‘How do we break the mold?’ or ‘What does being Black mean to you?'” she says. “While we must stay strong as a community of people, that comes with understanding the fact that each walk of Blackness is different. By not being restrained or letting generalizations confine, that in itself is just the beginning of a breakthrough.”

“Blackness Unbounded” features work from Black-identifying students on campus, with submissions from Carleton College students as well. The exhibition features photography, digital design, paintings, ceramic art, found objects, video, dance, and more.

Founded in 2017 by Shaquille Brown ’19 in response to protests against racism on the St. Olaf campus, the UPRISING exhibition series creates space for marginalized Black voices on campus and fosters community interactions among students, faculty, and staff.

“Without a sense of belonging, it is hard to feel that you are a part of the community and that can be very psychologically isolating,” says Lenyatsa.

An opening reception for “Blackness Unbounded” held February 13 began with a movement piece from Tyreis Hunte ’23, with the audience asked to hum along. This was followed by remarks from three of the four co-curators, who shared about previous difficulties in uniting Black students and organizations on campus and having their voices genuinely heard by campus leadership. Student artists who submitted pieces for the exhibition also spoke, and Neina Abdulai ’23 read one of two poems that she wrote — a piece titled “A Critical Analysis of Hip-Hop or The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” She says she hopes it inspires other members of the St. Olaf community.

“We should keep up this culture, making spaces for ourselves and honoring the people who did so before us,” Abdulai says.

“One of my biggest takeaways from this exhibition has been the community and a sense of belonging,” Lenyatsa says. “From my experience when I first came here, I had a couple of people I was friends with. However, what is special is the sense of belonging when you see a Black [North] American, South American, from India, from Southeast Asia, someone who looks like you. You say ‘Oh this is somebody that I can establish a community with.'”

Lenyatsa notes that this sense of belonging has been an important value in his leadership role in residence life. “My residents, I love them because I made myself available to them. The idea of white and Black was gone once I got to know them. Of course, it’s not perfect but most of all it has been great. If we listened to each other much more, then we could get somewhere,” he says.

Solomon says she would like to see more funding for UPRISING, as well as opportunities to share students’ work throughout the year — not just in February — and in venues beyond campus.

“As Black artists, we want those who do not identify with us to know this: we are not doing this solely for your consumption and benefit,” she says. “We are doing this to take up space, as a response or simply a form of expression, and to celebrate ourselves.”