Anyone paying attention to the news or social media knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed by the problems that affect our society and the world at large. Artist Steve Prince knows this feeling well.
Prince has been an Artist in Residence on-campus throughout the beginning weeks of this semester. In addition to his work being presented in the Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery in a display called “Sankofa: Hope of Renewal, the Art of Steve Prince,” Prince has attempted to promote a more positive discourse about our society with the help of Geneseo students in the “Urban Garden” community art exhibit in the Kinetic Gallery.
“[‘Urban Garden’] represents a community garden addressing problems in the soil as well as wholesome and hopeful elements in soil,” Prince said.
“Soil” is symbolic of both our society and each of us as individuals. This is the fifth time Prince has held the exhibit after finding success in Boston, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Needville, Texas.
Like gardeners tending to their plots, Prince believes that people must constantly reexamine and care for society by finding and addressing social problems, which Prince calls “weeds,” as well as “flowers,” which are all the good society has to offer.
The “Urban Garden” presents a forum that is sorely needed in this time of ideological division for people to constructively discuss and examine our society. Prince discussed the role conversation plays in improving the world with the audience at a gathering on Thursday Jan. 31 in the gallery.
“The community is not in a vacuum,” Prince said. “These conversations are essential to our lives.”
The art exhibit is made up entirely of works created from charcoal and chalk. In order for the exhibit to work, two large blackboards were placed on opposite walls of the Kinetic Gallery, each representing positives and negatives in our society.
Prince’s inspiration for the project comes from his understanding of the tragic place of racism within the roots of our country. Hearing stories of racism from his father as well as experiencing racism firsthand, Prince has often utilized art as a way of combating prejudice, noting that, “[his art] became part of [his] waking up.”
By expressing himself and his feelings regarding societal ills, Prince was able to assert control over his own autonomy by refusing to give up the ideals that had been instilled in him. Allowing himself to be liberated through art was a way of subverting what he described as, “constriction in life at large.”
This is best seen with one of Prince’s own works at the exhibit depicting a woman of color cultivating a “sing sing” plant, whose flower blossomed into a prison, symbolizing the problematic prison system which often targets people of color.
Despite the dreary theme of the painting, there are also symbols of hope hidden in the image. The woman wears fishhook earrings, a reference of Christ’s role as a fisher of men. Furthermore, the woman wears three cufflinks, a reference to the Trinity, and the prison flower is surrounded by five leaves, which Prince noted represents the five wounds of Christ.
In addition to Prince’s illustrations, the walls are enhanced by work done by students that run a gamut of majors, backgrounds and skill levels. Prince made it clear that the project could benefit from both skillful artists as well as novices.
To that end, he made a special effort to teach people the basics of using charcoal and chalk before the work began. The fact that so many students have influenced the outcome of the project yields a truly unique product.
English major junior Elena Ritz was amazed by the number of students that contributed to the community art project.
“We’re all working towards the same thing, but everyone’s bringing their own ideas to make the project truly special,” Ritz said.
While there are many beautiful pieces to appreciate in the exhibit, the message of the project was not lost on students. In between editing their works, students talked to each other about what they were drawing and why the topics are important to discuss.
The “Urban Garden” allows Geneseo students to learn about art, society and, most importantly, understanding each other and the problems and joys we all face.
Steve Prince succeeded in bringing people on this campus together through art. Hopefully artists like Prince can promote similar discourse throughout the country.