UWM Students Use Art to Reflect on #BlackLivesMatter

May 10, 2016

The UWM Honors College offered a class this spring called #BlackLivesMatter.

The movement – and hashtag, began in 2013 after a white Florida man was acquitted of shooting to death, Trayvon Martin, a black teen who had been walking through the neighborhood.

The final assignment of the UWM course was to create art about the Black Lives Matter movement.

On Mitchell Hall’s white gallery walls, works of art reveal what the words “black lives matter” mean to the students who took the UWM class that explored issues of race in America.

Dr. David pate taught the course but turned it over to activist artist Kelly Parks-Snider to work with the students on the exhibit.

“He understands how valuable art can be in using art as a forceful reaction or as a way or reflecting what it is you care about or what you think needs to change,” Parks-Snider said. “So in his syllabus he invited me to be a teaching artist in residence.”

She guided the students in expressing their thoughts about race through paintings, dance, poetry and guerilla art.

Gropper's poem
Credit Nicole Beilke

Chloe Gropper wrote a poem that’s taped on the gallery wall.

Her art conveyed personal experiences related to Black Lives Matter - being white while watching someone she loves experience racism.

“Having a black girlfriend is something I talked about in class and definitely affects my experience in the class,” she said.

Gropper reads the last line: “I look at her and I fall in love more every single day, so why does the world tell her it’s wrong to be black and gay?”

Classmate Rheanne Tibbits says she took the class because she is white.

“It’s not a black person’s job to tell us that their lives matter and that racism exists, it’s our job to go out and educate ourselves about that and make sure we know what’s going on,” she says.

Tibbits’ art features portraits of black Milwaukeeans.

Tibbits' photography
Credit John Parlier

Quincy Drane, the only black male in the class, says he wanted to learn about the movement – and reactions to it.

“Since I identify as black, it works that way,” he said. “But it kind of actually helps me to understand what other people think, more than help me further my own opinion on it.”

Drane’s piece in the gallery is a dance video – he wrote the script and performs the movements.

A still shot from Drane's video
Credit John Parlier

“I have a lone dancer, he’s dancing to a spoken word that I wrote that first starts with an anecdote of a young boy who doesn’t really realize that race is existing in our world, and then as he grows up he seems to find that it’s the defining factor in his life,” Drane says.

Here is an excerpt of his script:

I walk with my hood up, I'll never say more. I talk back to defend me, I'll never say more. I ride with my homies listening to music I like, I'll never say more. But if my skin was not this, I'd be able to do all those things once more. All lives matter is true and we need that to grow, but mistreatment of those of color is not the way to go. This is why we need to come together to help those of the latter. This is why black lives matter.

Tibbits hopes the show has created ripples.

“Maybe someone hasn’t heard of the movement or they didn’t really know what it’s about, and now they’ll know some of the problems going on and they’ll be interested in looking into it further,” she said.

Dr. Pate hopes to offer the class to more students in future semesters.

The gallery will close Tuesday at 4 p.m.