Loud Silence: Expressions of Activism

Cabrini Rudnicki, Co-News Editor

Wilkes University’s Sordoni Art Gallery opened its newest exhibit.

The exhibit, titled “Loud Silence: Expressions of Activism,” was curated by Heather Sincavage, the director of the Sordoni Art Gallery. The exhibit officially opened on Oct. 23, with an opening reception held on Oct. 24.

According to the Sordoni Art Gallery, nearly 100 visitors attended the opening reception.

This year’s exhibit features artwork from more than 40 artists, including Judy Chicago, Kara Walker, Faith Ringgold, Ana Mendieta, Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer.

Sincavage held a curator’s tour during opening night. During the tour, she took the visitors to key pieces of the exhibit and discussed their history and importance.

“I created the thesis for this a year and a half ago, and who knew the year would unfold the way it did,” she said. “I realized quickly how ambitious it was, and it became more and more daunting as it continued to build.”

Sincavage related putting together the exhibit like putting together a puzzle.

“You’re hunting and gathering and hoping your cat didn’t hide one under the sofa,” she explained. “At times pieces do not work out, but you find another piece and you plug the hole, and you are able to tell the story you envisioned.”

While many of pieces were borrowed from existing exhibits and museums, some of the pieces were borrowed directly from the artists themselves.

“I dedicate it to [the artists],” said Sincavage. “I am in awe of these artists, I’ve looked up to them, I was first a fan before I was anything.”

The first piece of the tour was a small painting Silence of Abuse by Dona Leif, in a section Sincavage refers to as where “women are telling their story authentically.”

“Abuse is a way that I came into activism,” she said. “I am a victim of domestic violence, it is something in my own personal studio practices. I find inspiration in other people who are able to tell their story, and I look up to the strength it takes to tell their story.”

The painting features Nicole Brown Simpson, a victim of domestic violence, and eventual murder, of the hands of O.J. Simpson in 1994.

“I start here because this is Dona really shaping this silent experience. Some of the research I’ve come across says that 70 percent of college age women have been abused or sexually assaulted,” she explained. “That’s a very high number, and is a very silent story that until recently have not been talked about.”

Sincavage provided commentary for more paintings, before telling the crowd she had a surprise. Helen Zughaib, one of the artists featured at the exhibit, was in attendance to discuss her work.

Zughaib who was born in Lebanon before moving to Europe to escape the Lebanese Civil War.

“When we left, my dad told me we were going on holiday for one week to Athens,” she said. “That week turned into 35 years that I didn’t go back.”

Much of Zughaib’s work focuses on the Middle East, the Arab Spring, and the Lebanese Civil War. The three pieces in the exhibit feature women in hijab or head scarves with geometric, pop-art print.

“[Sincavage] talks about the strength of women,” she said. “I, myself, do not think of myself as an activist. I’m a pretend activist, because I think of myself more as a humanitarian.

“As an artist, I don’t feel powerful,” she explained. “I’m not a politician, but on the other hand, when I get to come to tonight and we have this common shared humanity, I feel empowered.”

After Zughaib spoke, Sincavage spoke about a section of the gallery focused on the African-American experience.

“I think when a lot of times when these artists were making their work, they did not think of themselves as activists first,” said Sincavage. “I think they are really thinking about having their story be told, because it has not been told.”

One of the pieces in the section is We Came to America, a painted story quilt designed by Faith Ringgold.

The quilt tells a story of the legend that slaves who died in captivity would have their spirits float back to Africa. In the quilt, the Statue of Liberty ignites the slave ship with her torch, freeing the slaves.

Later on, Sincavage surprised the crowd with another artist, Sobia Ahmad.

“My work is essentially how large power structures, like politics and culture shape a person’s experiences,” explained Ahmad.

Ahmad grew up in Pakistan before immigrating to the United States when she was 16.

“A lot of my work is about identify as an immigrant, identity as a Muslim, a woman in the United States and in the art world.”

Small Identities, the piece featured in the gallery, was started as an exploration of data, according to Ahmad.

The piece features ceramic tiles, some printed with the images of ID photos.

“Early in 2017, I started to collect ID photos of Muslim immigrants,” she said. “This is when the travel ban for mostly Muslim countries was passed. Soon enough, I discovered that people were terrified. They do not want to submit their photo for anything because they didn’t want to be recognized.”

Ahmad began placing in a blank tile in her piece every time someone did not want their photo included. The result is a piece that is mainly blank tiles.

Loud Silence will be open until Dec. 26 and is free to the public.