For the students in Dr. Fiona Shen’s First Year Focus (FFC) class, “Exploring the Escalette Collection of Art: An Experiential Journey,” the weeks leading up to finals looked a little different. That’s because their “final” was to collaboratively curate an art exhibition related to Wilkinson College’s Engaging the World: Leading the Conversation on Environmental Justice initiative and to install it on the first floor of Roosevelt Hall.

“It was really cool to be able to focus on researching an artwork and then seeing it in the exhibit. Full circle moment!,” stated Jessie Willey (‘25, Graphic Design Major).

The title of the exhibition “This Land is Your Land” was proposed by Cassandra Chen (’25, Communications Major) in reference to the famous song by Woody Guthrie that has become an anthem to the beauty of America’s landscape. She, and the rest of the class, were drawn to the irony that Guthrie actually intended his lyrics to be critical of the privatization of land and resources. The land that we are so proud of is also one we alter, unequally share, and often destroy.

Diane Severin Nguyen, New Victimhood, LightJet chromogenic print and aluminum frame, 2019. Purchased with funds from the
​Escalette Endowment.

The best part about this project is that all the students’ hard work and research is available to the entire Chapman community. Everyone is welcome to walk through the halls of Roosevelt Hall or explore the digital exhibition to see how issues of environmental justice have inspired artists from around the world in different ways. Ivanna Tjitra (’25, Graphic Design Major) said it best, “This exhibition is for students, created by students.”

Throughout the semester, the students were tasked with investigating a specific artwork and presenting their findings in short essays and audio recordings that were transformed into labels and other didactic material for the exhibition. It was “such a great experience being able to dive into each piece to really understand the meaning and purpose,” Annie Yu (‘25, Graphic Design Major) shared.

In addition to researching the artists and artworks to place in the show, the students took a hands-on approach to learning some of the logistics behind exhibition curation. They measured the walls, created floor-plans, and proposed wall colors to create a space that would allow both the art and their research to shine. The students even took turns hammering the final nails into the walls before hanging the art for display.

“Working with this exhibit has been something new, but I have learned so much and have enjoyed working hand on and doing different activities,” Sarah Sanders (’25, Graphic Design  Major).

“To see all of our names on the exhibit plaque was so rewarding,” said Chen.

This Land is Your Land is on display on the first floor of Roosevelt Hall through May, 2022. The exhibition contains the students’ object labels, as well as QR codes that direct visitors to their audio responses to each artwork. At the beginning of the exhibition, there is also a Spotify QR code, that connects to a playlist centered on themes of land, curated by students Tjitra and Yandal Salas (‘25, Graphic Design Major). In addition to the physical exhibition, there is also a digital companion to This Land is Your Land, which contains additional label text, media, and sources for further research.

The nine works on display comment on themes of environmental injustice, such as unequal access to clean water and energy; climate disruption and its impact on human and animal migration; the burden of environmental risk on disadvantaged communities; and the legacy of displacement on indigenous peoples. As you view these artworks, think about the gap between the ideal that ‘this land is our land,’ and the reality that its benefits are unequally distributed. These artists call on us to remember that this land is our land and we must work together to preserve it.

As a “museum without walls,” the Escalette Collection is dedicated to empowering students to use art to shape the public spaces throughout campus, and to share the stories that are important to us all.

“This class was an ‘experiential journey’ for all of us, including the Escalette staff. We learned so much about the environmental justice content of artwork that, on the surface, seemed to be about something else. As curators, it’s a luxury to have so much time to get to know a small number of artworks,” noted Dr. Shen.

(Main Header Photo: Laurie Brown, Divining Western Waters #13, Inkjet print, 1995. Gift of the artist.)