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UWF Art & English Students Team Up For Museum Exhibit

Using words, images and everything in between, students from the University of West Florida are preparing an exhibition based on the work of a provocative, award winning writer. 

“She is a playwright, she is an essayist, she is a poet,” said Robin Blyn, a professor of English at UWF. She's talking about Claudia Rankine, whose 2014 book called "Citizen: An American Lyric" is the subject of the exhibit. Blyn says the book combines all of her writing styles with visual art.  

"‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ is really a kind of collage book. It uses a variety of different genres and, in fact, puts visual and verbal art into conversation with one and other.”

That visual conversation will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of Art beginning this Saturday.

It’s a collaboration between students in both the English and Art departments at UWF.

“Across different disciplines we’ve invited classes to read the book and to use it as a point of departure for classroom projects and activities, discussions, that sort of thing,” said Carrie Fonder, an assistant professor in the Department of Art at UWF.

She says she and students in a 3D art class and an advanced sculpture class read the book and together shared written reflections on it. They also shared their thoughts during some Zoom sessions. “But then also extended that reflection to making visual works of art. So, my students were responding visually, ultimately visually to Claudia Rankine’s content within her book.”

The book was chosen for the project because of its content and the reactions it elicits from readers.

“Its content is volatile" said Blyn. "And so we chose it specifically because it allows us to approach volatile issues, and the issue is the issue of racism, the everyday experience of racism in this country. The kind of what gets called macroaggressions that people with dark skin face just in their everyday lives in this country. So that’s how we chose this book as a kind of common read text. And about 21 classes read the book and had discussions and responses. And that included composition classes, honors classes, art English, it was throughout the university.” 

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Claudia Rankine

Earlier this year, Claudia Rankine gave a pair of virtual talks at the university that also energized students.

“I think that some of the best conversations that we had in class actually followed her talk" said Fonder. "So it was a great kind of extension and point of departure for their projects.”

Blyn added “It was there that Claudia Rankine was able to show us the way that words worked with images in her text, the kind of tension that she created between the word and image in the text and why she chose the artists that she did to include in the text.” 

The exhibit at the Pensacola Museum of Art will feature artwork of all types including painting, sculpture, video presentations and intimate readings of poetry by the students who wrote the works that will be available to hear by scanning a QR code on your phone.

“And in that way we hope to achieve something like what Rankine said during her visit that Carrie and I both found really provocative" said Blyn. "She said that she used images to make words quiver. And we wanted to do that in the exhibit as well. So we’re trying to make those words quiver by putting them alongside visual images, and also, perhaps, through the words making the images also tremble a bit.”

The exhibit is called “Citizens: Rhetoric, Response, Representation”, and will be on display at the Pensacola Museum of Art through July 4.