Pomona plasters social justice art across campus

William Gu
The Claremont Independent

  • Pomona College's Art Museum recently posted artwork throughout campus that promoted "racially neutral language" that doesn't "perpetuate racist narratives."
  • In particular, the project sought to highlight "hidden language codes, picture choice, and headlines that expose editorial bias in mainstream media."
  • On March 2nd, Pomona College’s Art Museum, in collaboration with “artist activist” Alexandra Bell, mounted three large works of art throughout campus, denouncing language “perpetuat[ing] racist narratives” used by The New York Times

    The artwork juxtaposes enlarged printouts of select New York Times articles with versions edited by Bell containing more “racially neutral language.” 

    "[I]nvestigat[ing] the language used by the New York Times to codify otherness, violence and justice in the United States."   

    One of the works has been plastered to the wall containing the main entrance of Pomona’s Lilliore Green Rains Center for Sport and Recreation, the college’s primary athletic facility

    According to a press release from the museum, the exhibition—part of Bell’s art project, which is titled Counternarrative—“explores how language perpetuates racist narratives. She highlights the hidden language codes, picture choice, and headlines that expose editorial bias in mainstream media. Using articles from the New York Times, the paper of record presumed to be a liberal voice, Bell ‘radically reedits’ the articles. She reads, redacts, and erases [the original New York Times articles’] loaded text and images, revising the stories with racially neutral language and visual imagery that is more descriptive of the headlines she investigates.” 

    A flyer promoting the exhibition described Bell’s work as “investigat[ing] the language used by the New York Times to codify otherness, violence and justice in the United States.”

    Bell’s artwork—titled “Olympic Threat”—in front of the main athletic center’s entrance.

    The press release also adds that through Counternarratives, Bell “exposes how racism is structured, codified and normalized through language and in the persistent decriminalization of whiteness.”

    The three works from Counternarratives plastered on the campus’s walls are A Teenager with Promise, Olympic Threat, and Charlottesville.

    Olympic Threat, plastered on the college’s main athletic center (shown in cover photo), changes a New York Times article on Ryan Lochte’s disputed claims of being robbed while partaking in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The printout of the original article has edits from a marker scrawled throughout the article, with comments such as “Change Title” and “he lied”—referring to Lochte, the white swimmer. Underlining part of the original article reading “…privilege, accountability and danger in a society where many Brazilians themselves often lament their exposure to alarming levels of violent crime and police corruption,” Bell adds the comment, “pretty much America.” Bell also changes the title from “Accused of Fabricating Robbery, Swimmers Fuel Tension in Brazil” to “Rio Gas Station Footage Reveals White-American Swimmers Were Offenders.” 

    The wall on the west side of the art museum hosts A Teenager with a Promise, a heavily edited printout of the New York Times article “Two Lives at Crossroads in Ferguson.” Bell deletes all the body content of the article, except for the lines “fatally shot an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown” and “his shooting death by Darren Wilson, a white police officer.” 

    One Pomona sophomore and student-athlete told the Independent that “[t]aking sides on such a controversial issue as the Michael Brown shooting can turn off prospective students whose views may differ from those on display. “Furthermore, the attack on the NYT [New York Times] fails to take into account the newspaper’s prior record.”

    The placement of Bell’s art on the front entrance of the main athletic center is also concerning for athletic recruitment, he adds.

    “Athletic recruits tend not to be nearly as liberal in comparison to the general population of Pomona. Therefore, they might not appreciate the assumption on behalf of the college that everyone shares the same views.”

    In a statement, the university said that "bringing art into public view and fostering dialogue about issues are part of what colleges do." 

    This article was originally published in The Claremont Independent, a conservative student newspaper affiliated with the Leadership Institute's Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished here with permission.

    Follow The Claremont Independent on Twitter: @CmontInd





    William Gu

    The Claremont Independent

    The Claremont Independent

    The Claremont Independent is an independent journal of campus affairs and political thought serving the colleges of the Claremont Consortium. The magazine receives no funding from any of the colleges and is distributed free of charge on campus. All costs of production are covered by the generous support of private foundations and individuals. The Claremont Independent is dedicated to using journalism and reasoned discourse to advance its ongoing mission of Upholding Truth and Excellence at the Claremont Colleges.

    The Claremont Independent is affiliated with Campus Reform through the Leadership Institute's Campus Leadership Program. Its articles are republished on Campus Reform with permission from the paper. 

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