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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

 

WELCOME to an exhibition of creative work by UMass staff members.

This collaboration between the UMass University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA) and The Partnership for Worker Education invited UMass staff to take part creatively in the UMCA’s current exhibition, We Are For Freedoms.

Starting in January 2021, a group of UMass Staff Artists met regularly to craft their own artistic responses to the exhibit's central question: “What does freedom mean to you?” The resulting original art works are on display at the UMCA for a special Pop-Up Exhibition, joining the initial ten artistic responses to this provocative and timely question. The work will then become permanently part of the We Are For Freedoms online exhibition.

 

Participating artists:

Barbara Hastings, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Donna Vanasse, Social Thought and Political Economy
Karen Hakala, Retired, Department of Chemistry
Lisa Korpiewski, Institute for Applied Life Sciences
Malini Sinha, Registrar’s Office
Michelle St. Martin, Physical Plant Custodial
Sarah Jarman, Advancement
Shara Denson, Human Resources
Wayne Gagnon, Information Technology

 


 

Barbara Hastings
Seven Generations of Hope
, 2021
Alpaca, naturally dyed wool, feltwork, 26 in. round

Inspired by the We Are For Freedoms exhibition, 2020 and Haudenosaunee Philosophy, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

My notion of freedom is a collective responsibility. A responsibility to each other to change hearts and minds with each new generation. To promote, protect and attain freedom for all is overwhelming, heartbreaking and few words can adequately describe the disparity, struggle, pain, and sacrifice. Yet, our responsibility does not end with one person, one family, one community, one country, rather we move forward within our lifetimes for the next generation to continue.

I chose the Mandala for my project as a guiding principle of meditative transformation and enlightenment, to bring together the seven generations of hope, represented in the seven feathers of freedom. As with the notion of freedom, a mandala can have a different meaning for everyone; however the meditative focus within helps to connect us to each other. Our hope for freedom is within the bright new generations ahead.

Artist Bio

I was born and raised on a small island in the state of Rhode Island, Aquidneck Island. My work is influenced by my experiences living and working in a small coastal farming community, where my grandmother instilled in me a respect for the environment and the protection of our precious natural resources. Over the past 20 years I continue to practice sustainable farming methods on my own farm, here in Massachusetts, where I raise alpacas and merino sheep. I work with natural alpaca and sheep fibers to create fanciful and functional felted creations using either a felting needle or wet felt technique. Each piece is handcrafted.

 

Donna Vanasse
Rise Up and Shine,
2021
Original song, lyrics and accompaniment, poster, 11 x 17 in.

I wrote the song, Rise Up and Shine, as my response to the Building Bridges Spring 2021 Virtual Field Trip to the We Are For Freedoms exhibit at the UMass University Museum of Contemporary Art (UMCA).

Two of the ten posters designed by local artists that were commissioned as part of the We Are For Freedoms project stood out for me. The words and color scheme of Catherine D’Ignazio’s poster were the initial inspiration for the song and Dr. Imo Imeh’s charcoal and colored pencil poster representing George Floyd resonated deeply within me.

The lyrics for this song, Rise Up and Shine, just poured out of me as a complete work the following day after viewing the We Are For Freedoms exhibition at the UMCA. It was like turning on a faucet. It felt magical and inspired, not at all like any other attempt at songwriting. I was able to write verse after verse in one sitting. I made very few edits before recording the final song.

The call for justice and the need for healing are something that we can all be a part of by reaching out to others in their need. I was so inspired by those words from D’Ignazio’s poster, Endure, Persist, Be Loved, Rise Up, And Shine.

In my song, I reflect on the freedom I have to serve my brothers and sisters but it takes love and courage to do so. It isn’t always easy to reach beyond our comfort zone but when we do it with compassion and integrity, our light begins to shine.

I intentionally included 9 ½ beats of silence in my song, a nod to the death of George Floyd, a man I did not know nor would I have ever heard his story if others had not moved out of their comfort zone and let their light shine in response to this horrible act of injustice.

We are all interconnected and as we reach out to others that light expands; one act of kindness as simple as listening to another increases that light. I may think that my act of kindness is small or insignificant but when added together with your efforts, Together We Rise Up and Shine. Rise Up and Shine © Donna Vanasse 2021

Artist Bio

I have always loved music. I have whiled away many hours entertaining myself singing songs: songs my mother loved and passed on, folk songs, hymns, union songs, Broadway tunes, you name it, I’ve probably sung it. I sing when I get up in the morning, I sing in the shower, in my car, in church, and in the union hall. If a tune is catchy, I might compose new lyrics and arrange guitar chords to suit my taste. Whether I’m sad or happy, exhilarated or downhearted I can find a song to fit my mood. Singing lifts my spirits. Music and lyrics can transport me to another place and time, the past, the future or even give me a glimpse of eternity. I thank God for this wonderful gift.

 

Karen Hakala
Tender Shoots,
2021 
Mixed Media and Collage, 13 3/4 x 10 ¾ in.

Confinement: Boxed in, bird in a cage, imprisoned, captive, walled in, restrained, fettered.

Freedom: Break out, fly, soar, burst forth, escape, break the chains, limitless.

I began considering the concept of freedom during the course of the COVID pandemic and was thinking about the constrictions of my own movements -- of being stuck at home, working from home, not going out at all. The complicated feelings of staying in and wanting out. Out was dangerous. Then I began thinking of other women. What if being kept in was dangerous and home was the place of terror and isolation, of abuse and violence. I had worked for a shelter for battered women and I knew of that peril.

The confinements women experience are on a continuum… but confinements they are.

Freedom to me is to have agency, control and power over our own lives, free to make changes in our lives according to our own will. And this freedom can only happen if women join together and work for justice - to crack open the restraints, to smash the limits.

Tender shoots of green growth await.

Artist Bio

Karen Hakala is a mixed media artist living in Amherst. A now retired USA member, she worked at the University of Massachusetts as a Faculty Assistant in the Department of Chemistry. She got her love of art and design from her father, who was, himself, a worker-artist – machinist by day, painter and woodcarver by night. She is indebted to a circle of co-workers who have taught her much about art, life and friendship. Building Bridges has provided her with a supportive space to share her work with others. Her current artistic interests include gelli-plate printing, botanical prints, collage and abstract art.

 

Lisa Korpiewski
Self-limiting Beliefs,
2021
Mixed media on wood panel, 9 x 12 in.

While I truly believe that every human being on this earth deserves the same respect, rights, freedoms and privileges, this is not the reality. What can I do to positively add to the collective? If I believe I can add value, then I could. The only thing standing in the way is me.

We all have these thoughts running through our mind: too old/too young, too fat/too thin, not good enough, not smart enough, not enough money, not enough time, not enough will power, not talented, and the list goes on.

To put it simply, these are assumptions or perceptions that we have about ourselves and about the way the world works around us. These assumptions are “self-limiting” because in some way they're holding us back from achieving what we really want to accomplish. These beliefs start early in life, and once these beliefs are formed, they can be hard to change. They may or may not be true or helpful, but they still dictate the way we live our lives.

What symbol would best represent this process? I chose butterflies as they represent metamorphosis–total transformation and ultimate freedom. They are the only creature capable of changing its genetic structure entirely, as the DNA of a caterpillar is totally different from the DNA of a butterfly. This transformation represents the embodiment of spiritual growth and transcendence. A moving from darkness into the light which requires faith, commitment and bravery, but it brings freedom by giving the gift of wings to fly.

It is easy to put our heads in the sand, or lend a blind eye to the atrocities happening around the world. In order to be able to help, we ourselves need to be whole and strong. How can we do that when we ourselves don’t believe we are …enough? So I will continue on my spiritual/self-help journey to keep trying to be a better version of myself every day, and work on my own self-limiting beliefs. What is a self-limiting belief that is holding you back from doing something you have always wanted to do?

Artist Bio

As a mixed media artist, paper crafter and card maker, I love working with paper–the weight, texture and colors–cutting, inking, painting and transforming into objects, such as handmade flowers. Adding vintage objects, inspirational words and messages add meaning. Playing with many techniques and experimenting with different mediums, enhances the excitement of creating mixed media pieces. In my card making it is not just a greeting card, it is an original piece of art. Since each card is handmade and signed, no two are exactly the same. Recipients often view the card as a special gift and as art suitable for framing. Follow my work on instagram.com/lisakorp and pinterest.com/lisakorp

 

 

LMalini Sinha
Entwined,
2021
Natural indigo dyed shibori and hand embroidery on cotton poplin, 24 x 24 in.

Freedom: Shibori, Indigo, Kelp, Otter

To me, freedom and constraints are entwined. Freedom is only valued when we are conscious of constraints. Especially last year, when we were locked in due to COVID-19, and each day now, when I witness my elderly parents’ loss of independence, mobility and ability to perform mundane tasks.

Shibori, a resist dyeing technique is what I chose to illustrate the contradiction, where the flow of dye is controlled by blocking out areas with stitching, scrunching, and tying; the dye finds its way through creases and openings in between. Shibori comes from a Japanese word that means, “to wring, squeeze and press”, not unlike loss of freedom.

Indigo dye interests me as a process, and a concept. I am drawn to the contrast of a dark historical past with a positive outcome in recent times. It is an intriguing dye that looks yellow/green initially, but magically turns blue when oxidized. Historically, Indigo symbolized Western colonial exploitation and oppression world over but its connection with India is particularly strong. The name is thought to have come from the Greek word Indikon, meaning “from India.” Indian peasants were forced to grow Indigo, replacing food crops on a portion of their land. They were compelled to purchase high interest loans, and high cost seeds, which kept them in perennial debt. In return they were paid poorly; some farmers went bankrupt and committed suicides. Yet today, many companies enable and empower growers--especially women, to achieve financial freedom, and independence through sustainable methods.

The kelp and otter also express my theme. Not only does kelp provide food and shelter to diverse marine life,
but it helps fight climate change by absorbing vast amounts of carbon. Kelp and otters have a symbiotic relationship. Otters eat the sea urchins that eat kelp. Otters roll and wrap themselves in the kelp fronds to keep from drifting with the currents, while freely napping or grooming. Restraint allows life to flourish.

Artist Bio

Malini’s passion in textile arts has led her to hone her skills in Shibori resist/dye technique. She received a BFA in Painting and MFA in Art History from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda, India, and an MS in Fashion Design from Drexel University, Philadelphia. She learnt from personal research, experimentation, and from Indigo and Shibori workshops and webinars by masters including Michel Garcia, Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, Ana Lisa Hedstrom and Jane Callender. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I still am on that journey, and have a lot to explore.

 

 

Michelle St. Martin
Free to be Me,
2021
Photo Collage on Paper, 24 x 36 in.

The photos on my poster for the We Are For Freedoms project are very personal to me. I feel we are here to teach and learn. My hope is that in the end we do both.

When this project came about, I automatically thought of the stages of life that brought me here, like the butterfly that came through a natural process of coming to be. Being a photographer, I’m almost always on the other end of the camera. I decided to put myself in the spotlight to tell my truth.

Lorraine Hansberry said “Art must tell the truth. It’s almost the only place you can tell it.” I was at first uncomfortable in the spotlight until I encountered this quote as my sign to stay the course. Another sign seemed to appear when Alix Dobkin, an original pioneer in music for women by women, passed away on May 19th of this year, and I was reminded of her belief that, “There are only two responses to freedom, one is trying to control everything. The other is to be creative and take risks.”

I decided to take the risk.

These photographs are me being who I am, joyful, living life, and showing others a side of myself that I’ve mostly kept private. On my journey, I’ve almost always been a late bloomer. My largest assets are open mindedness and remaining teachable. No longer am I at odds with myself or fearful. I’m now comfortable with my choices. I feel that art, while personal to us, brings about consciousness and shared life experiences. It can open direct dialogue and may assist a fellow traveler who may be struggling.

Freedom is being my authentic self. It is keeping it real. The insight I’ve arrived at is that “It doesn’t matter who we love, it matters that we do.” The pursuit of happiness is something we all deserve, no matter who we are. In fact we find who we really are in the courage to pursue our happiness.

Artist Bio

I like bold vibrant colors and like subjects and shapes that visually stand out. I like nature photography, landscapes or a specific subject. At present, I like the challenge of photographing different species of birds. I have compiled the images in a colorful book I titled “Flying Colors.” I have been photographing since I was a child. I also write, yet my goal is to use my photos to story-tell without words. I feel a connection when I see a fiery sunset, expansive landscape, storm at sea or the colorful plumage of a bird. That connectedness embodies the deep down spirit of who I am.

 

 

Sarah Jarman
Queen of Swords,
2021
Pencil, ink, mixed media, 12 x 16 in.

I chose “The Queen of Swords” as my theme for the We Are For Freedoms exhibition. She is the tarot archetype who represents for me freedom of speech. This queen encourages me to speak up and to step into my power. The suit of swords is associated with the element of air. So often birds and feathers have come to symbolize the primary characteristics of this suit, which are related to logic, strategy, thought, perception, voice, and ideas. Feathers become a metaphor for words that can soothe, comfort, and tickle, and they have the potential to wound and pierce, even cause severe pain. Words like swords can be direct and cut to the truth. It’s ironic that the word “words'' is itself contained within the word “swords”.

For my entry, I drew three feathers converging, which to me symbolize the verbal expression of my ideas and values. The queen provides a landscape where I can think and understand. She inspires me to embrace my sharp edges, choose courage over what is easy, and more importantly to practice and live by my values instead of just stating them.

Artist Bio

I love the process of drawing and being able to lose myself in a different world. The act of drawing to me is very instinctive and spontaneous. Observing and drawing the intricate details of feathers is a journey of discovery that has a particular meditative quality. I find creating hands-on artwork is a refreshing contrast to my graphic design work where my creations are digital.

 

 

 

Shara Denson
The Reality of Living Color,
2021
Stained glass, 18 x 25 3/4 in.

WHAT FREEDOM MEANS TO ME

Freedom is to:

Live without fear for my children’s safety.

Drive from work without being followed by local police.

Shop without being followed around the store, assumed unable to purchase the merchandise.

Work without others in the workplace questioning my competency because I am a woman of color or encountering micro-aggressions.

Allow my constant guard to be at rest.

What is freedom to me?

Freedom is my humanity being recognized and respected.

FREEDOM IS JUST “TO BE”, ME !”

Artist Bio

I have been creating stained glass art for over twenty years. Since 2010, my work has transitioned from traditional to more thought provoking pieces. My most recent work revolves around the political environment and human condition.

 

 

 

Wayne Gagnon
The Promise?,
2021
Acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 in.

Lady Liberty emerges from the abyss that is America’s dark past. She offers the hope of freedom and liberty for the future. However, she is cracked, battered and imperfect.

When I was asked to respond to the We Are For Freedoms exhibit at the UMass University Museum of Contemporary Art, I was at a loss. What do I, a white, cisgender, male artist, have to say about a freedom that has always been assumed and taken for granted? My journey through this project was a challenging reminder of the realities of this country as well as my privilege.

I was a child of the 1970s. I grew up in a small, working class, conservative, white New England town. I was a naive kid with a sheltered, nostalgic love for America, the flag, The Fourth of July, and the Statue of Liberty. It was easy to be naive in a pre-internet world that didn’t have a twenty-four-hour news cycle.

It took decades for me to awaken to my privilege in this world of discrimination and oppression based on race, gender, gender identity, class, and who we chose to love.

Emma Lazarus wrote in her sonnet, The New Colossus, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Yet, James Baldwin said, “...for Black inhabitants of this country... the Statue of Liberty is simply a very bitter joke, meaning nothing to us.''

Does the Statue of Liberty live up to her promise of freedom and liberty? Or, has she become a symbol of unfulfilled promises? Can we celebrate our successes and, at the same time, acknowledge the sins of our dark past that continue into the present?

My hopes for our country to heal and prosper are admittedly naive and cliché. As a child in the 1970s, I had a simple wish for people to just be nice to each other. I feel the same today.

Artist Bio

Wayne Gagnon is an artist and poet with a simple mission to add whimsical levity and warm, fuzzy diversions to this mixed up and troubled world. He enjoys living, working and creating in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. To see more work by Wayne, visit www.waynegagnon.com.