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Windows of Understanding art project calls for Rutgers to "see through hate"

 This piece for the social justice organization Elijah's Promise, created by Martina Hanna, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior, incorporates different fruits and vegetables to represent issues such as food scarcity and hunger.  – Photo by Photo by Dustin Niles | The Daily Targum

Launching in January, temporary art installations created by Rutgers students as part of the month-long "Windows of Understanding" project are displayed on storefronts and restaurant windows in New Brunswick.

The purpose of the art project is to transform public spaces into literal windows of understanding, according to its website. The artwork is meant to teach the New Brunswick community about the social impact of local organizations in the city, which does not always generate headlines on the news. This is the second year the project has run, with more than 30 social justice organizations participating.

Each organization is paired with an artist, many of them from Mason Gross School of the Arts, said Amee Pollack, the administrative liaison for the undergraduate program in the Department of Art and Design, as well as one of the artists featured in the project. The artist is then given a specific site to create their own piece of art answering the question of how their designated organization “sees through hate.”

Pollack was paired with The Brady Campaign, an organization that aims to reduce gun violence in the country. She said her piece, titled “Behold … The Courthouse” and located in front of the restaurant Costa Chica, is both a memorial to the victims of gun violence and also a rallying cry for reform. 

The courthouse imagery serves as a symbol for the way The Brady Campaign takes action, she said. Her piece also contains the most common names of people killed by gun violence on stones. 

“The hope is that each viewer thinks about how many Daniel's, Nicole's and so forth they have known in their lifetime, in their community,” she said.

Another artist who participated in the "Windows of Understanding" project was Ryan Woodring, a graduate student in the Master of Fine Arts program at Mason Gross School of the Arts. When he received the open call for artists, he said he thought it would be a way to be a part of the broader New Brunswick community.

Woodring was paired with the Collaborative Center for Community Based Research and Service, a center which helps to match Rutgers students with various service opportunities in New Brunswick. He drew inspiration for his piece from a Google Maps virtual reality session, where he said the first place he decided to visit was his hometown. 

At first, he wondered why he immediately chose to see his hometown, when he could have gone anywhere in the world. He then realized that people rarely looked at their home from a bird's-eye view, so it was a way for them to see something familiar from a different perspective.

“When you have the whole world mapped out virtually in front of you, you are still interested in going back to the place you spent most of your time,” he said. 

This concept was illustrated in his piece, a digital artwork that showed the entire city of New Brunswick on a table with humanesque figures surrounding it. Woodring wanted to incorporate the idea of a college town, where there was a constant flow of people moving in and out, but also residents who lived in the city permanently. 

He said while the piece, which is located in the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, does not reveal itself at once, he hopes those that walking past it on a daily basis have the same experience and realization he had when he first looked through the virtual reality goggles.

Another graduate school student in Mason Gross School of the Arts whose artwork is featured is William Robinson, who partnered with the organization PhotoVoice, which is connected to various schools in the New Brunswick school system.

Robinson said it was while he was walking past The Daily Targum’s office when an idea spurred for the piece he would create. Using the design of a front page newspaper, specifically the format of The New York Times, he organized a collage of content and photographs created by New Brunswick students. 

At first glance, a passerby might think it was a normal newspaper, but Robinson said it was intended to send the message of positivity, especially with the media being regarded as a bearer of negative news.

“I thought it would be interesting to change the narrative on the newspaper and interject it with positive content,” he said.

Martina Hanna, a Mason Gross School of the Arts senior, also made a piece for the project. Before being paired with Elijah’s Promise, a soup kitchen in the city, she said she had never thought about the issues of food scarcity and hunger.

Influenced by Rutgers Gardens, Hanna decided her piece would focus on "Jersey-fresh” fruits and vegetables. Using a method called screen printing, she painted different foods and cut them out, later collaging them on a 7-foot tarp. 

Her artwork, located on the storefront window of the restaurant Harvest Moon, was meant to not only celebrate the fact that there were organizations like Elijah’s Promise to help the community, but also highlight its influence beyond serving food.

“It’s not just about a food kitchen, not just about the food. It’s about the community. They’ll take you in when it’s cold out, if you need help with immigration services or need health attention,” she said.

For her, "Windows of Understanding" was also a way to make art accessible to those without the means to go to a gallery or museum. She wanted to be a part of the project to help people be more exposed to art in their community, she said.

“The main goal is to help everyone feel included and heard,” Hanna said.

All of the art pieces associated with the program will continue to be displayed until Feb. 28. 

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