two billboards created by art students line College AveBy Stephen Wilson

Diverse of thought. Inclusive campus. Community connections. 

What sounds like standard admissions fodder also describes a single project for capstone studio art majors assigned with a task for the president’s inauguration.

Using the theme My Spot Is Here, five seniors were tasked to create “billboards” that would line College Avenue as families, community members, and distinguished guests approach College Hill.

Looking down over the studio spaces as students work and talk

The artwork had to reflect who they are as students and artists—their five unique spots among the thousands that dot the leopard that is campus.

The billboards are shaped like spots. The idea for the project was devised by Pedro Barbeito, assistant professor of art and director of the Experimental Printmaking Institute, who teaches the capstone course.

Hand shows a student squeezing out green paint“This is a fabulous opportunity for our students to be involved in an important event and create a work that has clear parameters and a hard deadline,” says Barbeito.

Of the seven billboards in total, one explains the project and another is a chalkboard where pedestrians may draw or write a message. The other five are unique, thoughtful, and provoking … just what you’d expect from public art.

Meet the artists and learn a bit more about their billboards: 

Ritika Chowdhury ’22
Kolkata, India
Studio art and math/economics double major
“This painting is a modern take on Indian beauty and cultural expectations. The figure doesn’t have eyes, mouth, or nose. Many women in India often have few choices and can become invisible. The dark background against her brown body is symbolic of that, and the henna print is one used in marriage ceremonies. Chup kar, translates to ‘shut up,’ a response to the chaos and expectations that society has from women. I am hoping my art will remind women not to listen to what the world says but to listen to their true selves.”

Kymble Clark ’22
Philadelphia, Pa.
Studio art
“This is a white, cis-heteronormative, wealthy family at the center. It reflects a historical reality of the people who are entering and supporting this bubble on campus, where people of color are placed in the margins and forced to conform to white, cis-heternormative, and classist ideals and ways of presentation. I screen printed all of the nuclear families and cut them out before layering them on the billboard.”

Sadie Graeff ’22
Akron, Pa.
Studio art and art history—dual track
“Transphobia has been an issue on campus and has impacted students who were transitioning or even just changing their names. It makes me question if my spot really is here. My billboard asks that question by showing the trans flag slashing across Lafayette symbols. A quote I try to live by says ‘art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.’”

Erika Nally ’22
Weehawken, N.J.
Studio art
“I tried to consider what you might expect to see for this event and what you might not expect to see. I am drawn to random content and thought a cow is something unexpected. In social media spaces, #ad is used to indicate an advertisement, which would be more expected to be seen along the roadside. The hidden kanji is the symbol for cow and represents my Japanese heritage. Maybe this cow will work when considering the president’s last names: Farmer Hurd. Or maybe people will think #ad stands for art department or athletic department.”

Anastasiia Shakhurina ’22
Moscow, Russia
Studio art and international affairs
“I love outer space, and after seeing the photo of a Tesla in space, it was on my mind all of the time. The capitalist symbol. The space pollution. The strange gesture it is. So I added a stylized pulp fiction woman who is running from or being chased by this capitalist notion. I hope it reminds the College to value student lives more than profits and education over business.”

Categorized in: Academic News, Art, Community-Based Learning and Research, Faculty and Staff, Featured News, Innovative Teaching and Learning, News and Features, Students, The Arts
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  1. Ed Kerns from The Lafayette Newspaper says:

    Art censorship debacle rocks College Avenue
    News, Students October 1, 2021September 30, 2021 Nathan Kornfeind
    The portion of Anastasiia Shakhurina’s ’22 mural depicting a Tesla car in space was put up the Friday before Family Weekend, but the uncensored version of the right side was put up Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of Anastasia Shakhurina ’22)
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    Anastasiia Shakhurina ’22 was one of five art students asked to paint a mural for the side of College Avenue. Initially, however, only half of this mural was actually displayed.

    Shakhurina’s work was for one of five billboards that the college asked capstone art students to create to celebrate Family Weekend and the inauguration of President Hurd. According to Kymble Clark ‘22, one of the students in the capstone, the assignment was advertised to their class as an opportunity to show artistic capabilities and to support and promote the college. At first, most of their fellow students were not enthusiastic about interrupting their own capstone work to create these murals. However, after discussions with their professor, they decided it would afford an opportunity to express their feelings—including critiques of the school.

    Shakhurina got the inspiration for her work after seeing Elon Musk launch a Tesla car into outer space. The image stuck with her. For three weeks she worked to create a pulp-style piece depicting a nude girl running away from the symbol of capitalism, wealth and power that she thought the Tesla car represented. Shakhurina applied the theme to Lafayette.

    “It kind of represents how it is important to value students’ lives and our community more than the college values money and business and profit. And I didn’t even think about the nudity part, I just never thought that this would be a problem that would come up,” Shakhurina said.

    Shakhurina stayed up all night working on her piece before it was to be installed on Friday. A few hours after Facility Operations picked up her artwork for the installation, however, a staff member called her and noted that they did not hang up half of her billboard because it depicted a naked woman.

    Shakhurina immediately contacted her capstone professor and the facilities office, but could not get a clear answer as to why the half of the billboard depicting the naked woman had not been put up.

    It remains unclear who was behind the decision to not put up that part of the billboard. While Shakhurina noted that it was Facility Operations that she was in contact with, she does not know whether someone in the administration ordered it.

    “I don’t want to put blame on people who don’t deserve blame,” she said.

    Director of Facilities Scott Kennedy declined to comment and directed questions to Vice President for Communications and Marketing Mark Eyerly. Eyerly noted in an email that the painting was not put up to avoid offending people who were in town for College Hill’s porch fest and for Lafayette family weekend.

    “The concern centered on the possibility that some passersby might be offended by the depiction of exposed breasts in one of the paintings,” he explained.

    Although she was upset with the lack of communication about the decision, on Friday afternoon, Shakhurina decided to cover the exposed breast on her original work by painting them over, creating a sash that said “censorship.” Not entirely sure if that was the direction she wanted to take with her art piece, she put a note on it that said “not ready for installation.” Nevertheless, on Tuesday morning someone from facilities took the piece and put up the censored version of her work.

    “I was very upset about this situation because first of all, they took it down without my permission without communicating with me in any way, shape, or form. And then facilities just came in, put it up again, which I was really upset about,” Shakhurina said.

    Supported by her fellow capstone students and professors in the art department amid the decision, Shakhurina decided to fix the piece herself. On Tuesday evening, flashlight and acrylic paint in hand, Shakhurina approached her billboard and “painted the breasts backs on.”

    “It was the right thing to do. This shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t still be on that stage where we’re, as Mark Thomas Gibson said, ‘afraid of women,’ because that’s ridiculous,” she said.

    Gibson is an artist who visited Shakhurina’s class Tuesday morning.

    Professors in the art department expressed their disappointment with the decision to not initially put up the original, uncensored piece.

    “The larger issue is how unacceptable this result is at a college that has the stated aspirations of intellectual inclusion, respect for diverse opinions and yearns to forge an identity of mutual acceptance and respect believing our differences make us stronger,” Art Professor Edward Kerns wrote.

    “Artists, musicians, poets, dancers, actors, performers of all types as well as film and media creators are on our campus and should be accorded respect and acceptance even if their work calls into question the status quo or makes us uncomfortable,” he continued.

    Art Professor Karina Aguilera Skvirsky noted that she was surprised with the decision and vowed to support her students.

    “We really do want to support our students, not just [Shakhurina], but the whole group because they worked so hard on that project. I really want them to be applauded for their efforts and acknowledged for their talent and their hard work. What they want is to poke at the institution. And Lafayette is an amazing place, but we have blind spots, and for [students] to bring that up through art, what a great place—that’s what art is supposed to do.”

    Conceding that issues of public art are tricky, Skvirsky was disappointed in the lack of communication about the decision, especially since the piece in question was not salacious.

    “Let’s have that conversation. But let’s not do this quietly without the conversation, without the dialogue, because this is a learning moment for everyone,” Skvirsky said.

    As of Wednesday, the artwork remains on display. According to Eyerly, it will stay there “throughout this weekend’s inauguration events.”
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  2. Nestor Gil says:

    Interesting for the college to proudly share this story of student art work without mention of the campus-wide controversy around censorship and academic freedom that accompanied the work’s installation.

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