Symposium Explores Arts and Social Justice
By Patrick Hoff
At the end of November, the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development, with the nonprofit Arts Connect International, cohosted the Second Annual Symposium on Art for Cultural Inclusion. The event brought dozens of artists from UMass Boston and the Boston community together to showcase their work.
ACI funds artists in residence, connecting them to a network of leaders and opportunities. One ACI artist in residence at the symposium was Chanel Matsunami Govreau, a performance artist. Govreau said ACI’s artist-in-residence program is unique in the arts world.
“I’ve never felt more respected as an artist, as a person, as an educator,” Govreau said. She added that ACI really cares about the artists, making sure to be extremely nurturing from the beginning.
Govreau was especially taken with the fact that the ACI artists were in community with each other, instead of competition, and that each of their different backgrounds lends itself to conversations about their art. It’s always a challenge to make sure everyone is heard, she said, but they’re always able to have dialogues.
Govreau hopes that her art helps to create dialogues about cultural appropriation, which happens when one culture (usually a dominant one) takes over elements of another culture. Goverau wants her audience to reflect on how cultural appropriation might be silencing other groups.
“From a young age, I saw my family’s culture being performed and interpreted in ways that made me feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and unseen,” Govreau, who is Asian American, said. She also explained that she wants to provide resources to help youth love themselves and feel empowered.
Another artist in residence at the symposium was Andrea Gordillo, who agreed with Govreau that ACI has always made her feel listened to and respected.
“ACI has been the only organization I’ve been part of that has mirrored their actions to their values and mission,” she said.
Gordillo hopes that when people see her work, they will think about the stories they are listening to, who is telling them, why they are listening, and what stories they might be missing.
“Asking these questions encourages a critical praxis of the information we ingest everyday, and has us consider whose voices are valued or erased in our society,” she said.
Gordillo also wants her work to raise awareness of migrant rights, particularly those of Central American refugees, because “their plight and stories have been erased time and time again.” Gordillo stressed that it is imperative for migrants’ stories to be told, not through the lens of a journalist or a scholar, but by the people themselves.
Growing up, Gordillo said, she felt like she was living a life cloaked in invisibility, because her family was undocumented. That experience has led her to focus on how to include students who are undocumented, and to give them a chance to transcend their oppression, both by society and by themselves.