Vibrant art installation in 172 Tremont honors indigenous peoples

Vibrant+art+installation+in+172+Tremont+honors+indigenous+peoples

Photo: Hongyu Liu

By Mariyam Quaisar, Living Arts Editor

Students entering 172 Tremont this semester will be greeted by a new 13-foot piece of art, installed in July, that intends to signify the importance of inclusivity and equity through brightly colored statements and graphics. 

The piece contains a variety of bright colors and shades, ranging from purple to blue to yellow to red. The different colors take up the border of the piece, with welcoming and encouraging terms. In the middle, there is a large purple box with a two-paragraph statement honoring the ancestral land that 172 Tremont resides on and its past residents, the Massachusetts people, and celebrating the unique identities home to Emerson, respectively.  

Student Engagement and Leadership Director Jason Meier helped spearhead the creation of the art and establishing its purpose. He said administrators decided it was important to place the installation in the building to create an inviting and comfortable space for the Emerson community.

“We simply recognize how important it is, as space makers and community builders on our campus, to acknowledge everyone and to make sure that we are always striving to make sure people feel included, and that they have a place to call their own and a place to be comfortable,” Meier said. 

Josh Hamlin, the director of the Campus Center, said he was the first sponsor and initiator for the artwork. Hamlin reached out to Leonie Bradbury, the senior artist in residence at Emerson and professor in the Visual and Media Arts department, who has a connection with Public Art Think Tank, to get the project started. SEAL has worked with Bradbury in the past for similar murals in Piano Row’s quiet lounge and the Student Performance Center. 

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Meier helped draft the words and worked with a local artist to evolve the graphics until the final product was just as the team wanted it to be. 

“We thought it would be really cool to share a statement that recognizes our land, the land of the Massachusetts people that was stolen from them, and respect that,” Meier said. “In talking through it, it dawned on us very quickly that we could create something vibrant and bright and exciting. We wanted to make something that is memorable and vibrant and truly welcoming of our community.”

The statements are the main aspect of the art as they encompass its theme of inclusivity and honoring the Indigenous people. 

“The words are common but they’re also very important,” he said. “[The words are] heard a lot but they’re not always this upfront. The language is something that we reviewed very closely with Intercultural Student Affairs to make sure that we were covering and hitting all the right points, but also making sure that we were concise in how we say it.”

The team also approached several Emerson organizations to contribute to the statement. 

“We reached out to every single group that had an office in 172, including the Student Government Association, The Beacon, Emerson Independent Video, EVVYs, Intercultural Student Affairs, Spiritual Life were all included and had the ability to help us write this,” Meier said. 

The two-paragraph statement, along with the surrounding phrases and terms, creates a welcoming and comfortable environment. 

“When we drafted the statement, we wanted to pull out words and themes, things like ‘celebrate’ and ‘legacy’ and ‘identity’ and ‘respect’ and ‘honor,’” Meier said. “We wanted to make sure that people saw those values. We included words like ‘you matter’ and ‘you are welcome,’ because we really want anyone who sets foot into 172 to know that this is their space and that they belong there.”

The team communicated via Zoom and Slack, not allowing the pandemic to hinder their creative process.

“We’ve been operating quite well virtually, it was really easy to get people together and to be able to work together so [the pandemic] was never a challenge,” Meier said. “We drafted and proofed all virtually, and then we worked with the college to get the artist to come in to install it.”

While it took about an hour to put up the final piece, the entire process, including design, finding an artist, and crafting the statement took about a month. 

“We wanted it to be right and we wanted it to be something that we were proud of,” Meier said. “We were really thinking it through, scrutinizing every word, and making sure that we felt good about which took a little longer. And then it took a while for us to get comfortable with the colors and the patterns and how it all played out, and so there were quite a few drafts.”

The vibrant and eye-catching colors of the art are based on the secondary color palette for Emerson. This consists of hues like blue, purple, green, and orange, paired with pink and magenta. The art has received positive and emotional feedback, Hamlin said.

“[Students] think it’s very colorful and vibrant but we’ve seen some emotional responses of people like putting their hand up against the wall and being very appreciative of it and what it represents,” Hamlin said. “This is exactly what we were hoping for, that people would feel that the art is something that they can connect with.”

The team behind the installation worked closely with Intercultural Student Affairs to craft the art’s acknowledgements paragraph. 

“We worked really closely with Intercultural Student Affairs, and they have a lot of resources that we were familiar with and looked into,” Hamlin said. “For example, there’s one [book] that tells you exactly which of the Indigenous tribes lived in these areas and what their territories were, and so we were able to see who was here and who was not.”

SEAL has worked around several campus spaces filling them with heartfelt, welcoming, and inclusive art. 

“This was just the next step in that process to make sure we hit all of our spaces in different ways,” Hamlin said.