Addendum 2.1 : Making BIPOC the focal point of CFA curriculum

Friday, September 18, 2020

Addendum 2.1 : Making BIPOC the focal point of CFA curriculum
By Raven Yamamoto

For the first episode of The Addendum's second season, Agency's Raven Yamamoto is joined by junior studio arts major Jose Camacho and alumna Simrah Farrukh ('20) to discuss their proposal to shift fine art curriculum to center Black, Indigenous, and other artists of color (BIPOC).


Raven Yamamoto: Welcome back to school lions. It's a new school year and AGENCY is back with your favorite podcast where we go beyond the page and to the people. Things are a little different this time around—instead of the news in ten minutes or less, we're bringing you one story at a time. Today, we're hearing the demands of our studio art and art history students who are demanding more focus on Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, or BIPOC, in their studies. 

Reporting for the AGENCY, I'm Raven Yamamoto. 

Simrah Farrukh: My name is Simrah Farrukh.

Jose Camacho: and I'm Jose Camacho. 

Yamamoto: The Addendum starts now.
For a while, 2020 alumna,  Simrah Farrukh wanted to speak up about her experience studying art at LMU. She just never felt like it was the right time. 

Farrukh: I thought about writing this letter for a while, but I was kind of scared to, for some reason, like in my head to me, it seems like I was going to cause a scene or like a disruption, but after, um, the murder of George Floyd and all the protests happening and the fact that we're in a civil rights movement right now. I was like, I need to write this letter and I need to, you know, get as many different voices from other students as I can for this. 

Yamamoto: Simrah posted to social media, calling on her fellow peers to join her. That's where junior graphic design major Jose Camacho comes in.

Camacho: Around the time of the protests, probably like a week or two in, is when I first saw Simrah post about this. And I was thinking, you know, about like our specific industries and I think like, Yes, it's really important to tackle anti-racism as a whole and on the surface and it as a concept. But I think, even more, we should be learning how to tackle anti-racism in our prospective industries, that we're all a part of.
And I hadn't seen a lot of toolkits on anti-racism and the art world and in studio arts, and like how those things interact. 

Yamamoto: With the help of Jose and fellow 2020 alumni Fati Beck, the trio began drafting their comprehensive list of concerns. This letter was a response to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that were happening.

Farrukh: It's also a response to the lack of diversity in the LMU art and art history department curriculum, and just a few points that we went over was to have like an active recruitment of BIPOC professors. BIPOC stories are best taught by BIPOC professors. If it's a white professor talking about like Black history, it can get a little risky because there's like, there's always going to be the white gaze and like everything. So you want that pure and genuine perspective. 

Camacho: Something to add on to in terms of the, you know, white professors talking about BIPOC voices, something that I've experienced in high school and even sometimes at LMU, is this idea of, you know, being one of the only BIPOC students in the class feeling the need or the burden to explain or to correct the teacher is like really inappropriate. You know, like I should not have to teach entire class about, you know, my culture and I should not be the spokesperson for all like Latinx artists. And, it's just, it's weird. It's a very weird environment. 

Farrukh: We added that we wanted the curriculum to include notable past and current BIPOC artists. So not only having more BIPOC professors but in the curriculum itself, including more BIPOC artists that students can, um, learn about because we kind of had to do our own research about artists, of our own communities outside of class. And that kind of put an extra load on us. 

A few other points were to provide proper credit for Latinx and Hispanic arts course and then ensuring BIPOC artists are included even within the American or European courses. And I thought this was important because European or American, like those are not races. So why can't there be a Black or a Pakistani or Hispanic person within American or European art?

We were talking about the separation of the Western versus non-Western art history requirement because it's required for students to take at least one non-Western art history class but multiple Western art history courses. So that's kind of like promoting and prioritizing Western history and dialogue that leaves BIPOC students it kind of leaves us feeling like we're not being prioritized.

Camacho: To add on more like action items that we were really, really hoping for is like a solid continuing list of resources about BIPOC galleries and artists in the LA community. College of Communications and Fine Arts (CFA) has a newsletter so it's like, why not use that newsletter to amplify and to showcase these voices that are, that are in LA.

A lot of our art classes or studio art classes require that we go to museums and galleries and write essays about an exhibition. So it's like, how about we challenge the curriculum and we have people write about a culture that is not theirs or a culture that is like different from yours. I feel like that would be a big step into people understanding other people's cultures and going beyond the lens of just Western arts.

Yamamoto: But, the letter came from more than just the recent uprisings. It was a combination of Simrah, Jose and Fati's own experiences in the classroom as people of color. I came to LMU for my starting my second year of college, when I got there and started taking like art history classes. And, um, just started classes in general.

Farrukh: I started to notice that it was only white artists that we would learn about or learn for a majority of the time. And if it was any BIPOC artist, it would be like a Black artist for like, like a week or two. And then we'd quickly move on to like another European artist. To me, this was kind of disheartening because I wanted to learn more about other artists because I've heard of like Picasso before and although he's like a profound artist, there are so many more talented people that have created the foundation for the arts today. 

Camacho: It's just little things that you noticed that really rub you the wrong way. It's like in modernism, we're talking about all these amazing artists, like Picasso, like Van Gogh, all these famous ones. And then they're like, and Diego Rivera existed at this time too but, uh, let's not talk about his art, you know, he's a Brown artist, but it's like, let's focus on someone else. And it was just like really upsetting this idea of BIPOC students having to put in the work outside of class to learn more about their own culture or artists who look like them when, in reality, like, these artists that look like us are as big as Picasso and as big as Van Gogh and in their own respective fields and they deserve every right to be talked about and we deserve every right to hear about them in class. 

Yamamoto: Once the letter was ready to be delivered dozens of other current students and alumni alike, sign their names and support a couple of faculty members signed it too, before it was sent to various department heads, including Dr. Bryant Keith Alexander, the Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts. 

Farrukh: Right away we got a quick response. And from there, we planned out a zoom meeting with the Dean. It was me Jose, and Fati, the Dean was very understanding and all ears to this. And when I sent it, I didn't doubt that. He wouldn't take this to heart. We had a really productive conversation discussing the letter and then steps we can take to kind of create a forum, which we're going to be doing in the coming weeks. 

Camacho: And I think another really important thing about our letter and what we were doing is that we made sure that we sent it to some faculty as well, so that it doesn't, you know, just hit the faculty out of nowhere. Like, "Oh my God, me I'm racist?" But like, really, it was for us to come in community and for faculty to also understand our concerns and I know a lot of them do because a handful of faculty signed it and I'm positive that everyone in the art department who is faculty has read this document so far.

And this is an opportunity to have an open dialogue with everyone, you know, it's not supposed to be students versus faculty is supposed to be like students and faculty versus racism. You know, like that's, what's at hand right now.

Yamamoto: But Jose and Simrah made it clear that this isn't just a call for action in the art department. It's a wake up call for students university-wide in their own unique fields of study. 

Farrukh: I would hope to see students supporting their BIPOC peers, um, and kind of actively becoming an anti-racist institution together because it starts with one person. and then it like turns into the whole institution. Universities are kind of like micro institutions to like bigger institutions. Like that's where we are obviously supposed to learn for the professional world. And unfortunately, the art industry and the museum spaces outside of universities are very much white-dominated. To kind of deconstruct whiteness in these larger institutions, we have to work within our own smaller institutions, which are universities to kind of combat that. I think that the representation is important to start in universities so that when we graduate and go into these bigger professional environments, we can carry that on with us. 

Camacho: You know, only three three-ish people worked on this letter, but so many other students have stories to tell. And so like this letter is just the opening dialogue, like starting the conversation in so much larger and more important conversation that everyone at LMU needs to be in on.

And that's like, calling out and challenging your own industries and institutions and, and educative fields that you're a part of, you know, it's like, what does anti-racism look like for the dance department? What does anti-racism look like for SFTV for biology, for archeology? Like anything across LMU as a Jesuit institution.

There's been this recent call that's not just now, but it's been a call for years about the fact that racism is a sin. And if we're a Jesuit institution and if we're trying to be a post-racial and anti-racist Jesuit institution, those same statistics and numbers that are in, you know, American art galleries and museums across the nation should not also carry on to our universities. Like that's why it's so important to have that representation both in the faculty and in students and in the curriculum.

Yamamoto: Well, there you have it Lions, the addendum to the letter, put forth by our art students. Re-imagining their curriculum. We've got a lot more in store for the show as the year goes on, but until next time I'm Raven Yamamoto. Take care of yourselves. We'll see you soon.

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