To Include is To Excel: The art of UPRISING
In the first two years of the To Include is To Excel initiative, St. Olaf College faculty, staff, and students have developed nearly 50 grant-funded projects to support inclusive teaching and learning. We’re highlighting these projects in a new series — and we hope that hearing about this work in the words of fellow faculty, staff, and students will inspire you to think about how you can be part of creating a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
While still a student at St. Olaf College, Shaquille Brown ’19 developed and curated an art exhibit to tell the powerful story of Black presence on campus.
The inaugural exhibit of UPRISING | Black Reign: Narrating Black Expression on the Hill, was held in February 2018 in the Center for Art and Dance’s Groot Gallery. Funding from To Include is To Excel has ensured that the exhibit has continued for two more years. This year’s show — curated by Amanda Rose ’21 and Bridget Asamoah-Baffour ’21 — will be held from February 13 to 22.
Each year, UPRISING narrates the experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff at St. Olaf through the visual and performing arts. Hosted in February to coincide with Black History Month, the show’s student-curated exhibitions and programs create space for marginalized voices and foster community interactions among Black students, faculty, and staff.
Brown shares what she learned in developing this To Include is To Excel project and what she hopes the community takes away from it:
What led you to develop this project?
As a Jamaican, I grew up on Bob Marley. Uprising was the last album by Bob Marley to be released in his lifetime. It was a deep and serious collection of songs that explored fire and brimstone themes of sin and salvation. In the opening track, “Coming In From The Cold,” Bob Marley optimistically sang about positivity and second chances. UPRISING is St. Olaf’s second chance. Like its namesake, this show, UPRISING, is a deep and serious collection of art that explores the beauty and pain associated with Blackness. In 2017 we protested the pervasive racism on campus because, among other things, many of us did not feel at home at St. Olaf. We were here on the Hill and in dorms, clubs, and classes … but figuratively left out in the cold as a result of policies, practices, and attitudes that did not fully include us in the St. Olaf experience. This show was developed as an act of protest and as an intentional act of inclusion.
We were here on the Hill and in dorms, clubs, and classes … but figuratively left out in the cold as a result of policies, practices, and attitudes that did not fully include us in the St. Olaf experience. This show was developed as an act of protest and as an intentional act of inclusion.
What did you learn — about yourself, your fellow students, professors, the St. Olaf community — as you began working on this project?
I had never curated a show before the 2018 installation. Through the process of developing this series, I primarily found a love for art conception and curating and an appreciation for community. Art was outside my comfort zone but as a student of political science, I knew that St. Olaf’s art community was one of the best places to start a more subtle protest against inSTOtutional racism and to begin the work of creating inclusive spaces for authentic expression. This project allowed me to experience, firsthand, the overwhelming support of St. Olaf’s community of color, and its Black community in particular. I found that I could depend on faculty and staff and students to come together and either contribute art or support artists. The same can be said for the allies in our community. Receiving a To Include is To Excel grant is a testament to that. That funding allowed me to go beyond mere Black expression and learn more about the barriers to equity in the arts on our campus. Through funding from To Include is To Excel, I was able to award stipends to student artists, which meant that more students who had never taken a formal art class could try their hand at creating something for the show.
This project allowed me to experience, firsthand, the overwhelming support of St. Olaf’s community of color, and its Black community in particular.
What do you hope students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away from this work?
I conceptualized this show in the aftermath of that pain and isolation in the hope that through art, members of the community could not only heal but also find spaces on this campus to express themselves. Staying true to its subtitle, “Narrating Black Presence and Expression on the Hill,” each year’s installation brings together a diverse group of Black-identifying students, faculty, alumni, and faculty spouses to focus on perceptions and realities of Blackness. UPRISING celebrates the diversity of our identity while also highlighting some of the deterrents to that celebration. I want our community to know that Blackness is diverse within itself. To know that protest continues.
How can the St. Olaf community support your project?
This year’s installation is the third in a series of invitations for members of the Black community to rise up and reign; to build and have a seat at our own table where we are the icons of our own existence. This show is not only an expression of resistance, but it is also a narration of Black students’ demand to feel at home on the Hill. It is our coming in from the cold.
It is our REDEMPTION SONG.
It is our UPRISING.
This year’s UPRISING exhibition is curated by Amanda Rose ’21 and Bridget Asamoah-Baffour ’21 and will be on view in the Center for Art and Dance’s Groot Gallery from February 13 to 22. Rose and Asamoah-Baffour will share curator’s remarks at 5:30 p.m. during the free opening reception on Thursday, February 13, from 5 to 7 p.m.
Where does your work go from here?
Currently, I am an instructor in Diversity and Social Justice, and History at the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. I’d like to think of myself as curating conscious art experiences in the classroom; the classroom is my new gallery. In my Diversity and Social Justice classes, I use visual and performing arts to aid our critiques of injustice and exclusion. In World History, we use art and art history to explore diverse, and often marginalized, cultures around the world. For example, we consider issues of historiography (how and why do certain objects belong within the Western conception of Art History?) and museology (how should such items be collected and displayed?) to respond to questions of white supremacy and narratives of power and powerlessness in the traditionally Eurocentric conception of history. But the classroom is not my only gallery. Next year, I will be partnering with NMH’s art department to curate an art show for artists in Western Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley who are from marginalized backgrounds.