‘Stories of Resistance’ resonates with students, seeks global connections

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“Stories of Resistance” at the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum resonated with Webster student Keshon Duke. The exhibition highlights a global view of resistance.

Webster student Keshon Duke walked through the rooms of the St. Louis Contemporary Art Museum, which were decorated with paintings, photos, drawings and sculptures symbolizing resistance. Mass incarceration, income inequality and systemic racism were among the topics addressed by the surrounding visuals.

Having had his own experiences with facing oppression and protesting, the art resonated with Duke.

“There was a lot of reaffirmation,” Duke said. “It was like, ‘yes! I’m not the only one.’ Many times in such a big world you can feel like you’re the only person who is passionate about something.”

The exhibition, “Stories of Resistance,” features artwork from 22 artists representing a diverse array of political, geographical and social backgrounds. On display are over 40 works of art by contributors from Turkey, South Africa, El Salvador, Vietnam and Pakistan to name a few, as well as from local artists.

Museum visitors stand next to Glenn Kaino’s “Salute” which is made of wood, fabric, urethane, glass, lights and gold paint. The piece is a cast of Olympian Tommie Smith’s raised fist. As he received a medal at the 1986 Olympic Games, Smith gave a Black Power salute. Photo by Kate McCracken.

The press release for the exhibition states, “Through visual narratives, the artists amplify and bring to focus the multitude of conditions that ignite and inspire people to resist.”

Wassan Al-Khudhairi, chief curator of the museum, co-organized the exhibition with associate curator, Misa Jeffereis. Al-Khudhairi said one of the goals of the exhibition is to bring a global point of view to resistance.

“The hope with the exhibition is to look at how resistance manifests across the globe, and to try and propose possible connections between global resistance movements and local resistance acts,” Al-Khudhairi said. “It’s … for people to reflect their own experiences into the work and take something away that is meaningful, specifically to them.”

Duke, who attended several protests over the summer of 2020, said he walked away from the museum with an empathetic feeling to the topics of the artworks.

“A lot of what I saw was detailing the Black experience, or what it’s like to live as a Black person, or even as a minority. You see yourself in some of those images,” Duke said.

The art in the exhibition is arranged in three categories: language as resistance, existence as resistance, and movement as resistance. Language consists of written texts and stories; existence highlights continued survival of histories and people; movement draws attention to mobilization such as protests.

With a short film in each category, the exhibition targets multiple forms of art and agents of change. However, for each piece of work, the goal is the same; to motivate change.

International Relations major Igho Ekakitie cites John Lewis and the Good Trouble film as his encouragement to speak out against injustices. In October 2020, Ekakitie co-organized a protest outside the Old Courthouse with Brian Barlay to stand against Nigerian police brutality.

“For me, resistance over the years has been to stand up and speak about the issues that are dear to me, dear to the people that look like me, dear to the loved ones around me, dear to humans in general,” Ekakitie said.

For Ekakitie, St. Louis proves to be the ideal city for acts of resistance.

Andrea Bowers’ “Resist” is another piece on display at “Stories of Resistance.” Photo by Kate McCracken.

“I wanted to create an awareness to people here in St. Louis and around the Webster Groves area, that this is what is going on back home in my country,” Ekakitie said. “We can all together come out and march, go on social media, click the hashtag #EndSARS, so they can see back home and know that it’s not just a local movement, it’s a global movement.”

Al-Khudhairi said the inspiration for organizing this exhibition was the idea that St. Louis is the perfect place for an exhibition centered around resistance, due in part to the numerous protests that have occurred over the years.

“I felt that there was a sort of spirit of energy, both in the history of St. Louis and present day,” Al-Khudhairi said. “There are a lot of these themes that kept emerging and reemerging when I would talk to people or read about the past of the city, so I thought it would be interesting to organize an exhibition around the idea of resistance.”

Sophomore Shaeleigh Parsons has been to three protests in the St. Louis area over the last five years, including a Black Lives Matter protest and the “Resign Hawley” protest. For Parsons, it is about making a bigger impact than just the local community.

“There are so many parts of the system here in the U.S. and around the world that are causing a lot of harm for people,” Parsons said. “I think that one of the best ways we can fight against that is by using our voice to point out where we see the issues and what we want to happen.”

Parsons said that, at each protest she has been to, there has been an overwhelming sense of community among everyone there.

“Everyone was sharing their stories, we were working together to create protest art on the street,” Parsons said. “At one point they started playing music and we basically had a dance party and we had a soul-train line where we were all dancing together. I think that’s truly what protests should be about, is community.”

The vast background of activism and movements within St. Louis serves to connect museum visitors to the artworks in their own way.

“I think art is powerful because it sends such a unique message in a very peaceful way. Art speaks the deep things that we can’t express,” Ekakitie said.

Al-Khudhairi said she wants everyone who sees the exhibition to have their own unique takeaway based on their own personal experiences.

“I will be coming back there, to get more takes on some of the art. It’s all very resonant with what’s happening right now, and it’s something that’s close to me,” Duke said.

The exhibit will be on display until Aug. 15.

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Kate McCracken
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