Community Portrait Project Enlivens Campus
By Tracy Jarrett, News Editor
Students may have noticed some colorful additions to the College landscape over the past week.

Thanks to the Collaborative Art: Practice and Theory of Working With a Community seminar, six 12.5 by 30 feet triptychs with both photographs and oil pastel portraits have been put up across the campus, as well as in the Mead Art Museum. Each triptych has a portrait or photograph of a student, a professor and an Amherst staff member and includes a corresponding quotes.

Those who tour these triptychs can also listen to the voices of the faces they see, on a small iPod, courtesy of the Mead. Each featured person shares his or her views of education, Amherst or simply life. There is also an exhibition in the Mead that correlates with these triptychs, which will be open until Jan.` 20, 2008.

A lot of work went into turning these 18 faces into meaningful art. With the help of Artists-in-Residence Wendy Ewald and Brett Cook, the seminar students dedicated two weeks to interviewing their muses and creating the base work for the art. The seminar also met frequently over dinner in Valentine Hall to discuss the social and educational realities that they each faced, and wanted to represent through the art. On Sept. 28 the seminar helped coordinate a public celebration on the Valentine Quad. At this celebration all Amherst community members were invited to help color in the triptychs. There were also musical performers and local food in Valentine Dining Hall.

Community involvement was a large part of the construction and presentation of these triptychs. With the portraits up, community involvement will continue to be a focus. “After the community has had some time to live with the pieces, the museum looks forward to organizing a discussion about their broader implications, in terms of vantage point, pedestrian versus automobile; materials, fine arts versus commercial; authorship, artist versus community; originality, reproduction versus handicraft; identity, socially imposed versus personally constructed; etc,” said Mead Director and Chief Curator Elizabeth Barker, appointed just this year. “Of course, that quick list of admittedly oversimplified dichotomies necessarily fails to address other issues, ones that we haven’t yet considered because the project has only just begun: much of the ‘work’ that these triptychs have to do in the world lies ahead of them, and some of the questions that they will eventually raise have yet to emerge.”

On Thursday, a reception was held at the Mead to celebrate the completion of the portraits as well as the opening of a concurrent exhibition within the art musuem.

The exhibition includes a black line drawing of a photograph taken during the Sept. 28 community art event. The musuem has pastel crayons which can be used to color in the outline while the exhibition is open.

In addition, according to Barker, “The show also features three video screens with films documenting all stages of the project, bound transcriptions of all 18 interviews with the portrait subjects, the initial photographs and preliminary drawings used to generate the ‘big heads,’ examples of Brett’s and of Wendy’s earlier work and the related projects made by Wendy’s students, including a computer station linked to their website. The exhibition also marks the Mead’s first podcast audio guide, which offers a tour of the on-campus display.”

According to Kristen Ahye ’11, “The portraits help to foster community and add personality to the campus in a creative way.”

These large triptych portraits are worth a look at. “All high-falutin’ theories of community-based arts projects aside, it’s frankly exciting to walk across a campus that’s been transformed overnight by the arrival of these massive, vibrant portraits,” said Barker.

Jonathan Thrope was a contributing reporter to this article.

Issue 13, Submitted 2008-01-30 13:12:45