Author Archives: Keya Acharya

A Guide to ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ 2.0

fullsizeoutput_16f3My aim in revising this project was to receive a significantly increased amount of participation from viewers. I wanted this second version to be physically bigger in terms of font and poster size and in a space that would receive more traffic. I wrote ‘A Guide to Sarah Lawrencing’ in font size 600, and ‘Add Your Method’ in 500. I chose the yellow wall, a sort of hub in Heimbold because of its location next to the café. I hung up six copies of my poster, which I used in the first version, scattered throughout a section of the yellow wall. I put a piece of paper that gave further instructions right under ‘Add Your Method’. I hoped that placement would be natural for a viewer’s eye to read the titles and then look below to see the instructions. The cut-out letters originally were just because I did not have paper large enough to fit the whole title and I didn’t like the look of a bunch of 8.5 X 11 pieces of paper next to each other. However, I later realized that it added to the DIY nature of the project, made it arts & craft-like, and potentially convinced more viewers to participate because it was hand-made and not perfect. IMG_8704  At firfullsizeoutput_16f1st, I didn’t provide tape, sticky notes, or a sharpie due to the disappearing materials in the first version of the project. After a suggestion from the class, I put a sharpie and a roll of tape onto the string that I then hung up on a thumbtack. These materials never disappeared because they were much more clearly a part of the project. My peers have used everything from scraps of notebook paper, index cards, sticky notes, and even the tape I provided to write their methods. The texture of all these different materials is something else that adds to the DIY nature of the art and makes the project accessible. My peers were able to use whatever materials they had on them. IMG_8727We’ve talked a lot in class and in conferences about ensuring that one’s art does not hurt the feelings of viewers. I was doing pretty well, until this version of ‘Sarah Lawrencing’. During the last couple days that my art was installed, I found comments such as “Take this down” and “This is mean! I don’t like it!” on the yellow wall. These comments do not feel directed at ‘Sarah Lawrencing’, but at my art. I panicked when I first say them, severely worried that my vision wasn’t coming through in the installation. At the same time, my art is not original and does not come from me, in the sense that everything that I wrote on the poster, came from actions that I watched peers take. It came from a social culture at SLC. Maybe these comments were a defensive response to a reality that my peers do not want to face. Even if I had removed my installation earlier than I had planned (It was only up for a week anyway), ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ would still occur constantly on this campus. However, I also do not want viewers to see my art as mean or cruel, when in fact I see ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ as rude and mean, and therefore am attempting to combat it. There are clearly peers who do not understand my aim with this art, yet the majority of the sticky notes are positive, funny, and understand what I am asking and what my goal is. If the majority of viewers understand the art is that enough? I realize I cannot please everyone. However, there is a difference between someone not liking my art because it doesn’t suit their personal style versus someone finding my art offensive or rude. Angela has mentioned in class that in order to get someone to care about a serious issue, you must first make them laugh. I see this project as doing just that. Comments such as ‘Take this down’ seem to want me to speak about ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ in a serious manner, but I see that as the next step, not the first. IMG_8708One viewer went so far as to post an 8.5 X 11 piece of paper on top of one of my posters. They wrote, “Can we love and appreciate and enjoy this community of awesome people rather than be petty and endorse negativity <3 for this SLC community”. The placement of their commentary in intentionally on top of my poster, signifying that they see my poster as “endorsing negativity”. What this viewer is asking cannot happen until SLC combats ‘Sarah Lawrencing’. It’s interesting to see that these comments are less of an attack on ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ and more of an attack on my art. Do these viewers respond just as strongly when they witness ‘Sarah Lawrencing’? I highly doubt it. My posters were very clearly sarcastic and humorous. This commentary is all part of working in public space. Since, I am asking viewers to engage, it is at their discretion what to put up. IMG_8723There are still other viewers who put up messages on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. They wrote comments, such as ‘Pretend like I don’t care about y’all, cuz I don’t’ or ‘perhaps you shouldn’t take something as minor as not being “seen” so personally’. However, being seen is imperative to fostering community. My art was part of a much larger conversation on campus climate and social life.IMG_8710

A Guide to ‘Sarah Lawrencing’

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This project began with a poster that Andrea Gibson created, listing ‘Things that Don’t Suck’. They bring this poster to their poetry shows, leave sticky notes next to it with a sign asking audience members to add their own items to the list. I wanted to hijack this idea of a list with sticky notes. I settled on the idea of a project centered around ‘Sarah Lawrencing’, which speaks to the broader social climate on campus. I’ve complained about ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ and the broader social scene since I I started at SLC. I noticed that almost everyone I spoke with hated this culture also. I kept questioning why it still existed if some many students found it to be so negative. I felt that the idea of ‘Pillars of Support’, which is in Beautiful Trouble, spoke to this. The premise that large numbers of people comply with systems, forgetting that they have the ability to withdraw their consent from the system at any time. Virtually everyone I know, including myself, has ‘Sarah Lawrenced’ someone at least once, and yet we are the same people that complain about it. We complain about the action, yet we simultaneously comply with the action. I’ve noticed that once individuals enter a space, they mimic the social norms of that space and ‘Sarah Lawrencing’ is just another social norm.

Claire Bishop describes Tiravanija’s communal Thai meal exhibit, which he says only becomes art when viewers actively engage with the food and the artist, and other viewers. His main goal is to create a relationship between himself (the artist) and the viewer, so when the viewer is passive, this goal fails. This idea of collaboration and viewer participation was something I wanted to include in my art. I was nervous to create something that was completely reliant on other individuals, because the chances of the project failing were higher. However, I knew that if viewers did not engage with my art, then it would only speak to the very culture on campus that I was trying to change.

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Originally, I wanted to be direct and serious. I planned to ask viewers straight-up, “Why do you ‘Sarah Lawrence’ your peers?”. I did not have any intentions of using humor, but after receiving feedback, I understood that this might turn viewers away. I planned for the entire project be made up of sticky notes, but during conference Angela suggested I draft a poster to center the project. I attempted to make the poster as ironic, humorous, and ridiculous as possible. I also wanted it to emulate Sarah Lawrence marketing. I used the same font and colors as official SLC pamphlets, and I put a picture of Westlands as the background.

I hung the poster near the T.V. that is next to the yellow wall. I had copies of the poster (flyers), sticky notes, and a sharpie that I placed on the ledge below the T.V. I put a sticky next to the poster that said ‘Add your own method for ‘Sarah Lawrencing’, and another one next to the flyers that said ‘Take one please’ with an arrow pointing to the copies of the poster. The next day, the sticky notes and sharpie were gone. After talking to members of the class, I realized that my peers read this sticky note as an instruction to take any of the items on the ledge, rather than just the flyers. I went back and wrote ‘Do not take any items off this ledge. They are part of an art project’. This had better luck but a couple days later my items once again disappeared.

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My peers did not participate in my art as much as I hoped for due to the location, disappearing materials, and ineffective communication. First, my installation space was not intended for art pieces. The ledge that had my materials is a space for functionality. It is where my peers place their laptops, books, etc. The wall is a space for posters, but my art was not just a poster, it was a poster that required participation. While this installation location did not spark participation, one advantage to this space was that people read my work as a regular SLC poster. My artwork blended in which further perpetuated the idea that this poster was one that a department of the college made. One individual even hung up another poster that overlapped with mine. Second, for the majority of the time that my project was up, the materials were gone. Third, even when the materials hadn’t disappeared, my peers did not understand what I was asking. My instructions were on sticky notes so they blended in with sticky notes that my peers had written on. Also, viewers would only know how to participate if they were less than a foot away from the poster due to the size on the font, sticky notes, and paper. While many of my peers did not add their own methods, I did see them take pictures of the poster or laugh at the poster.

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A Reworking of Aunt Jemima aunt-jemima-logo I first heard about the racist history of Aunt Jemima in Alwin Jones’ Black Life Matters lecture last year. This year, Komozi Woodward also brought up this history in his lecture. He explained that the advertising used was that of a ‘slave in a box’. After brainstorming a list of possible images, I settled on Aunt Jemima. Originally, I wanted to remove the smile and pearl earring, swap in a wig, and change the coloring of her face so it wouldn’t look so light and glowy. The lighting made her appear like she was wearing makeup. I wanted to alter the image to create one more closely aligned with the realities of slavery. My second idea was to take an image of Georgina, one of the lead characters from Get Out, and make that the new Aunt Jemima image. This option felt like the easy way out, the way to get around using Photoshop, a program I had no previous experience with, so instead I returned to my first idea. I spent hours trying to learn the tools of Photoshop and apply them to my photo. I would often try to use a tool and the result would look nothing like the tutorial I had learned it from. I emailed the image to myself but lost layers of the photo in the process. I eventually learned from a friend that I needed a flash drive and I needed to save the image as a tiff. 1 The next class was coming up quickly and I did not have an image I was satisfied with. I had a vision in my head, but I could not figure out how to make my idea appear on my computer screen. Two days before this class met again, I realized that if I were to go through with my first idea, I would be creating an image that already exists. I would be exchanging Aunt Jemima with the image of slavery that you would find in a Black history textbook. Both my original and second ideas relied on a pre-existing image. I realized my first idea was just another easy way out. At this point, I had removed the pearl earrings, and all of Aunt Jemima’s hair (in preparation for a wig). I had eased some of the ‘smile lines’ and turned the image into Black and White. I planned to leave my image as is and ask for assistance from the class. I saw the current version of my image as pure trash. In fact, I almost deleted it before class. Shockingly, I received overwhelming amounts of praise from the class, so I made some minor changes, and then decided it was final. I printed the image onto sticker paper and cut them out by hand with scissors. I then went to a few different stores including CVS, True Value Drugs, and ACME. I couldn’t find Aunt Jermima products at the first two, but I placed the stickers over the original Aunt Jermima images at ACME. Aunt Jermima’s image is on two different spots on the box of the pancake mix. My sticker was a bit too small for one of the spots but fit perfectly on the other spot. 2     I was heavily inspired by Shephard Fairey’s Sticker Art and Mark Vallen’s critique of Shephard Fairey. Although I appreciated the replicability and accessibility of stickers that Fairey described, I lost respect for him after reading Vallen’s critique. My impression was that Fairey was quite self-absorbed. Vallen described that after Fairey was busted for plagiarism of a White Panther image, Fairey made a joke about it and said “I wish all my busts ended that well” (Vallen, 6). Although Fairey alters images to create something new, he begins with a pre-existing image. Fairey for example, took an image advocating for the liberation of Puerto Rico, took in out of the context of Puerto Rico and into the context of the Obey slogan. This isn’t inherently plagiarism. This is similar to what I did in altering the image of Aunt Jemima. However, Fairey does not give credit to any of the original artists. Fairey’s view on race and graffiti culture also rubbed me the wrong way. “I was somehow convinced graffiti was something you had to be born into, like a Black or Hispanic mafia” (Fairey, 2). The use of the term mafia seems like an insult. Fairey fails to mention that graffiti is a part of Hip-Hop culture which is a piece of Black and Hispanic culture. If he is going to engage in graffiti culture, which some would argue he should not be doing at all, then he must understand where that culture comes from. Also, it makes sense that he does not feel like he will fit into this culture, because it is not his. I hijacked an image that mocked the conditions of slavery. I did not use humor in my image, because the original image used humor and it did not work. It is what made the image so offensive. Another reason I rejected my original idea was because the image of slavery is shown so often that individuals become desensitized to it. It is also not my place to put that trauma on display. Additionally, my final image, which peers described as ‘ghostly’, better communicated my message which was that individuals need to re-think the implications of Aunt Jemima. The ghostly nature drew on inspiration from Get Out, but did not steal a pre-existing image. Throughout this project, I had to figure out which of my ideas would communicate my message while maintaining originality.

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