With Art and Positivity, Arah Kang ’19 Highlights Oppression
As part of No Hate November—an annual month-long event at Bowdoin that seeks to educate the community about prejudice and racism in order to combat them—Kang set out to curate a big project with a deep message. “I just wanted to make a powerful statement. I wanted to let the exhibit speak for itself,” the senior said.
Kang—whose #ThisIs2016 photo shoot campaign with the Bowdoin Asian Student Association went viral—is no stranger to projects like this.
Her current show consists of dozens of black weights with slurs written on them that hang from the ceiling. Mounted behind the hateful language are over a hundred photographs of smiling students holding a whiteboard on which they answered the question, “What makes you feel whole and happy as a person?”
The hanging weights symbolize the weight of our words, according to Kang, who is a government and legal studies major and an education minor. She added, “You have to walk through these hurtful words in order to get to the photo collection. You have to walk your way through the ugly in order to see the pretty.”
All the words suspended from the ceiling in Un-Silenced are actual words that students told Kang they have had directed at them at some point in their lives.
But Kang said she didn’t want the focus to be on the negative. She aimed to capture both the dark and light that exists despite bigotry. “We’re not always the unhappy people our environment forces us to be,” the senior said. “We are far more than that.”
Answers to the big question varied, but common themes included family, friends, pets, and food. During photo shoots, Kang encouraged participating students to forget about labels and just think of themselves as individuals.
“I wanted to communicate warmth and happiness in these photos,” Kang said.
For Kang, the exhibition is a reminder to be more cognizant of the words that people put out into the world: “It’s easy to say things and forget about them, but those things can stay in someone’s mind all day or for the rest of their life. It is a privilege to be able to check out of uncomfortable conversations without engaging in someone else’s everyday reality.”
And what makes senior Kang feel whole and happy as a person? Her answer: “Doing projects like this, and making an impact on people's lives.”