Counternarratives Installation Examines Bias in the News Media

October 23, 2018

Megan Harding

Counternarratives exhibition
Artist Alexandra Bell’s Counternarratives exhibition at Pomona College in California.
Photo credit: Claremont Colleges Library

Brooklyn-based artist Alexandra Bell will mount large-scale works on two campus buildings, prompting viewers to think critically about how race and violence are portrayed in the New York Times.

On October 29, visiting artist Alexandra Bell will begin mounting large-scale works on the exteriors of two campus buildings—Terrell Main Library and the Allen Memorial Art Museum—as part of her Counternarratives project, which calls attention to how issues around race and violence are reported in the New York Times.

Since 2016, Bell has used walls in public locations to mount photo-based works that dissect news coverage, ranging from police violence to athletic competitions. The works reveal biases and assumptions about race, gender, and power. The Brooklyn-based artist, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, urges viewers to think critically about the circulation and consumption of news and the politics of the narratives presented.

A number of other campuses have hosted Bell’s Counternarratives project, including Bennington College in Vermont, Pomona College in California, and the University of Kansas.

Alexandra Bell portrait
Alexandra Bell. Credit: Béatrice de Géa

“Bell’s work is viscerally powerful, and I knew the first time I saw one of her Counternarratives that I wanted to bring her to Oberlin,” says Andrea Gyorody, Ellen Johnson ’33 Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. “What she’s doing, across the visual arts, journalism, and activism is timely and critically important. It’s difficult work that Oberlin students are ready to engage on all levels, and I hope it sparks conversations in and outside of the classroom.”

Bell’s 2017 work, A Teenager With Promise, will be installed on the façade of Mudd Center, which houses the Terrell Main Library. The work responds to news reporting of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. A second work, Charlottesville, will be mounted on the Venturi Addition, which conjoins the Allen Memorial Art Museum and the Department of Art. This diptych deconstructs a front page New York Times report on an August 2017 march by torch-bearing white nationalists and the large counter protests that ensued.  

Both installations are on view from October 30 through December 21, 2018. 

Bell will discuss her project at 5:30 p.m. Monday, October 29, in the Hallock Auditorium of the Adam J. Lewis Center for Environmental Studies. The next day, Bell will facilitate a “Lunch and Learn” session with approximately 25 Oberlin College students and will discuss journalism, ethics, implicit bias, racism, privilege, and the critical reading of both texts and images (and how they interact with one another). 

Counternarratives is presented by the Allen Memorial Art Museum and the Oberlin College Libraries in conjunction with Radically Ordinary: Scenes from Black Life in America Since 1968, an exhibition curated by Gyorody.

Coinciding with the exhibition, the museum will host “Creating Space: Curating Black Art Now,” a daylong symposium on Thursday, November 2. The keynote address of the symposium will take place during the museum’s First Thursday event at 5:45 p.m. on November 1. The keynote speaker will be Naima J. Keith, deputy director of the California African American Museum, Los Angeles. In addition, the Friends of the Oberlin College Library will present a lecture by Maria Balinsky at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 3. Balinska is co-CEO and editor of the United States edition of The Conversation, a nonprofit committed to transparency and credibility in news reporting.

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