Public Art in Philadelphia

Public Art in Philadelphia

With help from the Hurford Humanities Center’s Summer Research Fellowship fund, I have spent the past couple months fully immersed in the filmmaking process. As a film and media studies major at Swarthmore, I was given the option to do an independent thesis and I immediately jumped on that opportunity. After having worked on multiple documentary projects during my time at Haverford (thanks to the wonderful Vicky Funari), I knew that I wanted to engage my documentary skills and experiences in a topic close to home. Philadelphia has always been an under-appreciated city in my eyes, and having it as a cultural, historical, academic, and experiential resource has been crucial to the development of my thesis. My guiding question entering this project was something along the lines of, “How does public art delineate and/or subvert socioeconomic and cultural borders”. Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been able to narrow my focus to South Philadelphia, specifically the significant Nepalese, Burmese and Bhutanese refugee populations that have accumulated in recent years. Southeast x Southeast is a community resource  and arts center for these refugees, which aims to use art as a vehicle for storytelling and community building. With support from the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Lutheran Children and Family Service, and the Mural Arts Program, the project has expanded beyond its initial community events and has become a long term project for artist Shira Walinsky. In addition to organizational duties and teaching ESL classes, Shira has been working on related public art projects, including the soon-to-be-completed Language Lab mural at the intersection of 7th...
Geoffrey of Monmouth- History or Fiction?

Geoffrey of Monmouth- History or Fiction?

This summer, I’m researching the ways that history was created and used politically in 12th-century England. Pretty exciting, right? Don’t worry, it’s less dry than it sounds. In this post, I’ll talk a little bit about the main text that I’ve been working with: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. Writing sometime between 1136 and 1138, Geoffrey presented his work as a historical account of the lives of ninety-nine British kings, translated from material that he found in an ancient book. Geoffrey tells a very compelling story, and Michael Faletra’s translation is top notch. The problem? Very little of the material in the History is remotely close to what we now consider factual. It reads more like a work of imaginative fantasy than a history book. Inspired by Virgil’s Aeneid, as well as Bede, Nennius, and Gildas, Geoffrey creates an elaborate history for the British people (these days we might call them Celtic peoples- the ancestors of the Welsh, Cornish, and Bretons). He begins with the fall of Troy, describing how Aeneas’ grandson, Brutus, brought a group of Trojans to Britain, defeated the giants who lived there, and settled down. From there, the History is a wild ride- there are more wars with giants, magic, prophecies, and multiple British kings who conquer Rome and become emperors. Where Geoffrey really shines is his tale of King Arthur. The History of the Kings of Britain is the first text in which the Arthurian legend really appeared in its present form, and it’s a great account. Arthur unites the Britons, conquers Iceland, Ireland, Denmark, Gaul, and Rome (essentially the known...
Jews and the Civil War

Jews and the Civil War

First, hello! My name is Laura Newman Eckstein (HC ’16), and I am a Hurford Humanities Fellow researching Southern Jews pre-1865 for my senior religion thesis. I am in Cincinnati this summer at the American Jewish Archives, which has one of the best collections of information on American Jewry in the world, particularly Southern Jewry. As we speak I am combing through the file of a Jewish Confederate soldier: his medical passes, his letters home, his vouchers, and his military correspondence. I come to this research through an interest in my own family. I have around six Jewish Confederate ancestors. I often wonder if they knew for what they were fighting. My concepts of  the Confederate position  is veiled in my own notions of history, looking back through the book of memory and time. While today the Confederate army is associated with racism and slavery, for most Jewish Confederates it had nothing to do with slavery in particular. I am finding that very few Jews, pre-Civil War, were plantation owners; they were mostly merchants. Yet they did have a vested interest in the class structure that pervaded the South before the Civil War. Amid planters and non-planters, whites and blacks, slaves and free people, the Jews were able to flourish and seemingly assimilate into their communities in a way they had been unable to do in Europe and the Caribbean. With newfound and welcome prosperity and a sense acceptance, the need to prove themselves, to fight for and demonstrate their position within the larger Southern society, was an obvious reason for their participation in Confederate Army. Reflecting this sentiment twenty years before the...
Museum/Page/Container

Museum/Page/Container

After a few days of travel, I finally arrived at Japanese Seto Inland Sea for a feast of dialogue between artworks and the space in which they are contained, and between human creations and the natural environment. I heard about this Seto art project last year when I was participating Kijimuna Children’s Theater Festival in Okinawa City and while I was doing research on the artworks that remain on the islands, I became increasingly excited about encountering them in person. Naoshima was my first stop. From Yayoi Kusama’s red pumpkin gazing at the islands afar besides Miyanoura port to six House projects sitting quietly among other local houses, I felt that the boundary between space and object, museum and artwork, container and its content starts to fade. The relation between the object and the space makes both of them parts of an integral artwork: the walls and floors of the house become textured canvases, directional narratives or three-dimensional sculptures. The house contains objects of art as it is made of these objects. It pushes me to continue to think the book as a more literal architectural space: the media not only serves or corresponds to the content but becomes an integral part of the work itself. Another piece of House project consists of a newly built wooden house inserted in the middle of reminiscent statues of an ancient shrine and a modern glass ladder in contrasts with the mossy stones coming up from the underground cave that can only be seen at the end of a walk through a narrow tunnel with a flashlight. The art object stands in...
Stonewall, Pride, and Trans Justice

Stonewall, Pride, and Trans Justice

Hi Everyone! Thanks to the HCAH, I’ve spent most of my summer in New York doing research for my Anthropology thesis. At the moment I’m in the final steps of my volunteer-research project with NYC Pride, the official pride organizer for the events in Manhattan, and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a trans* and gender non-conforming legal clinic and community organizing collective that focuses on racial and economic justice. For the first month of my project, I was focused on helping NYC Pride with various events for the Stonewall Riots 45th anniversary and conducting a demographic survey for them during the march (which people estimate had 2-3 million people attending this year!). During the Rally, I had the honor of driving Susan Sarandon in a golf cart and meeting Laverne Cox!!! It was awesome–she was really nice and even asked about my project:   That day, I also participated in the 10th Annual Trans Day of Action with the SRLP. That march I had much more time to observe, enjoy, and engage as I wasn’t running around with volunteers in 90 degree weather trying to fill out a 1000 surveys! At both events I  was studying how different queer and trans* groups memorialize and understand the Stonewall Riots, which I’ve learned are much more about myth than they are about definitive history. Check out this awesome poster I saw at the TDOA: Now, I’m finishing up my work at the SRLP and doing some last interviews with volunteers, staff, and board members at NYC Pride. I have three weeks left to finish, and spend some time in the two archives I’m using,...