This past January, Dietel Gallery hosted an opening for “Visibility of Community,” a photography show from alum Anna Shupack ’18 in collaboration with the Emma Willard School branch of Democracy Matters. The exhibit includes interactive elements asking viewers to consider ‘what does democracy mean to you?’ and personal definitions of equity and inequity. Alongside opportunities to create protest art and write letters to local representatives on pertinent issues, Anna’s work showcases the activism in local communities especially during summer 2020.
Q: How did you come to work with Democracy Matters and Emma Willard School to bring your work to Dietel Gallery?
A: I was asked to show my work at Emma Willard after I had a similar exhibition at FLOCKart, a local mobile art gallery. My passion for activism was really sparked at Emma Willard, where I was first inspired to use my voice and to commit myself to what I cared about. Educators like Gemma Halfi were instrumental in helping me to find my passion and feeling seen and trusted as a community organizer. I wanted to show my protest photography at the Dietel gallery because I want students at Emma to engage with the idea of art as social activism. When I was at Emma Willard, my Junior year I co-founded the Democracy Matters chapter. Democracy Matters is a national grassroots organization committed to campaign finance reform. I am proud that the club has continued successfully since 2017.
My hope when showcasing my photography is to allow students to feel ownership over the show. Fine art spaces sometimes miss the potential to create change because it may be hard for the viewer to engage with the work. My vision for this show is to spark conversations about what equity looks like and how to achieve it. On the interactive mind mapping display, people wrote notes on “poor housing conditions for newly resettled families,” the “targeting of Black girls in school discipline,” and “Voter suppression.” Branching off of those, people brainstormed about ways to address some of these issues including through “laws regulating housing conditions,” “restorative justice training in schools,” and “ending gerrymandering.” I want my exhibition to be a place where people feel comfortable raising questions, addressing inequities, challenging beliefs, and taking ownership over their community.
Democracy Matters information for button-making and letter writing in Deitel Gallery is up for the duration of the show alongside interactive elements for viewers to share their thoughts on equity.
Q: Your work in Visibility of Community largely features images of protests and marches happening in the Capital Region during Summer 2020–can you talk about attending these events as a photographer, and if that is a different experience than attending as a regular participant?
A: I began attending these protests just as a participant and organizer. At the time I was studying photography at Bard. As I became more involved in the organizations and collectives that were taking part in these protests, I saw that the skills I was learning studying photography could help represent what was going on at the protests. As I participated in a coalition of organizers in Albany rallying for racial justice, I used my camera to document the power, growth, tenacity, and humanity of this community organizing. In my work, I explore themes of visibility, community organizing, and possibility.
When I photograph protests, I ask myself “how can I contribute to and uplift the dedication and resilience of these organizers and participants?” Inspired by LaToya Ruby Frazier, I question who controls the narrative, how it is disseminated to the general public, and how it relates to institutions and power. To address some of these questions, I think about how my voice is shaped in collaboration with the people I am photographing. I want to be responsive to the language and energy of the people I am photographing. I can only do this authentically when I already have a deep connection with those individuals. Being aware of nuances, people’s quiet truths, and not just heroic imagery is crucial. I think about where these images exist after I take them. How can the proliferation of these images be uplifting, not harmful? Protestors’ images circulate both as tokens of resistance and as symbols of disorder. The photograph is powerful in a time when hypervisibility can be dangerous, especially to people risking their lives to defend what they believe in. As I have become more involved with this movement, photography has allowed me to feel a deep connection to these moments and to the people involved.
Q: You have shared your art in various mediums throughout Emma Willard School–the mural in the stairway down to the school store/mailboxes, your art was used on the cover for your class’s Revels performance, and now your photography is shown in Dietel–why do you often try or work in different mediums and are there benefits to changing your methods?
A: Growing up with my mom owning the Albany Art Room allowed me to have access to many different mediums. I never really felt confined to mastering one particular practice. Instead, I have enjoyed exploring different methods of making art. Over time, I have realized making art means more to me about building community and documenting what I care about in ways that are accessible, uplifting, and unifying.
Postcards of one of Anna’s photographs with a guest book for comments.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how exploring and practicing art is important (to you and/or in general) even if it’s not something a person might pursue full-time?
A: In college I studied both Photography and Sociology up until my senior year. I decided to just focus on Sociology for my senior thesis. I know I am always going to be making art no matter what I am focusing on in life. It has always been something that comforts me and allows me to express myself and connect with others. I am currently working at the South End Children’s Cafe in Albany as the Assistant Director of Advancement and the Volunteer Coordinator. Although my profession is not technically art related, I find myself drawn to incorporating artistic practices wherever I am working. I am beginning a photography club with the kids at the South End Children’s Cafe as well as co-teaching weekly art lessons. In my experience, making art has the potential to foster relationships, spark change, and encourage people to find their voice and feel seen and recognized.
Q: All those pieces that we’ve seen of yours across EWS show the value of community, is this a theme in your work overall?
A: Yes. I definitely find myself gravitating toward artistic practices that encourage collaboration and community building. The mosaic I did my senior year at Emma Willard was the first time I really was given the opportunity to lead something that substantial. It was foundational in my personal growth and confidence in myself. I am very thankful for the trust and support I felt when facilitating those campus wide workshops and installing my mosaic. Mrs. Slaughter told me that her daughter still feels pride when locating her handprint within my mosaic. Teachers, faculty, family members, students, and board members all played a role in the creation of the mosaic and that is what I find so special.
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