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Virtual art exhibit shines spotlight into dark corners of inequity, injustice

This painting from Sacramento artist Marquise Grace is one of several pieces from multiple mediums that will be featured in the online exhibit "Un/Equal Freedoms," which launches virtually May 13.

As protests against police brutality and bigotry roiled communities around the globe last year, Sacramento State’s Center on Race, Immigration, and Social Justice began planning a powerful response.

The Center met with activists and artists in the region, including Sac State students, and those meetings gave rise to a unique project.

On Wednesday, May 13, “Un/Equal Freedoms: Expressions for Social Justice,” an online art exhibition, launches with a virtual reception. The exhibition highlights the work of local artists of all mediums who are spotlighting issues such as social, political and economic disparities, and barriers to freedom and opportunity.

An painting that includes images of protest and words of activism, including “Silence = Death,” “Say Their Names,” and “Radical Renaissance.”
This painting from Sacramento artist Cheryl Gleason depicting images of protest and words of activism is among those that will be included in the "Un/Equal Freedoms" online exhibit.

The goal of the project is to share knowledge and “present visions of a more just future,” while supporting social justice advocates and artists in the community, said Monicka Tutschka, a Political Science professor at Sac State and one of the exhibit’s organizers.

Planning for the virtual show began after the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizers to cancel an on-campus event focusing on art and social justice scheduled for April 2020.

“We felt we had to do something, given the explosiveness of everything that happened last summer,” said Tutschka. “The national discussion about social justice created some urgency.

“We settled on a destination website that we hope will spark critical reflection, expose some deep problems, and spark change. We also want to offer powerful statements of resilience.”

Sac State’s call for participating artists drew dozens of submissions that reflect “systemic barriers to opportunity that affect people unequally,” Tutschka said. A committee selected 32 works for the virtual exhibition. Artists include Sac State students and alumni, and 25 professional and emerging artists from across the region. Mediums include poetry, dance, photography, digital presentations, sculptures, prints, and paintings.

“It’s shaping up to be a great show,” Tutschka said.

Among the featured artists is Cheryl Gleason, whose colorful painting includes images of protest and words of activism, including “Silence = Death,” “Say Their Names,” and “Radical Renaissance.”

Another featured artist, Danny Romero, offers a collection of poems including one titled “Autobiography of a Latino Male Suspect,” and “Por Vida,” which depicts life in the barrio.

Sac State art student Kendall Wharry submitted a trio of prints that address social justice issues, including the objectification of women.

Most of the displays will include a short reflection essay from a scholar or community activist.

An art print with images of girls and women and the text "Women Aren't Objects."

Sac State art student Kendall Wharry submitted a trio of prints, including the one seen here, that address social justice issues like the objectification of women.

“The artwork displayed here may make some uncomfortable, but that is the purpose,” said Richard Falcon, founder and CEO of Teatro Nagual, a nonprofit theater group that strives to promote change through community activism. “It opens doors so that real dialogue can take place. Artists can foster healing through their art.”

Falcon jumped at the chance to join the “Un/Equal Freedoms” project, in part because it was an ideal opportunity to “find a home for student artists whose voices need to be amplified,” he said. “Bringing community artists in to join student and alumni artists warmed my heart,” said Falcon. “I felt at home.”

Luis Chavez, a lecturer in Sac State’s School of Music who participated in the project, said he is most impressed with the “collaboration and solidarity across the community for social justice” that the exhibition represents.

“The artists and organizers have come together to create something that could not have been done individually,” Chavez said.

“I hope that people experience in this exhibit how interconnected our experiences are to one another, and the importance of collaborative work toward addressing issues of social justice.”

With the exhibition, Sac State’s justice center is fulfilling the University’s promise to be an anchor in the region, engaging with the community and helping to address key issues, said Tutschka. The project also dovetails with Sac State’s effort to be an antiracist institution, she said.

“We hope it will spark people to do something, to offer an impetus for getting together, discussing these issues and find things that we can do to make incremental changes.”

Participating artists will receive small awards – $500 for individuals and $1,000 for groups – that “serve as a token of gratitude and a sign of respect,” Tutschka said.

For more information about the show and the launch party, go to https://www.csus.edu/crisj

VIDEO: Sac State alum and "Un/Equal Freedoms" participant Oke Junior

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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