Curated by UCLA students Tami Chalom & Moises Mizrachi, the exhibit Shattering the Silence is on display in the Powell Library through the end of Winter Quarter. Inspired by his class, Critical Vision: History of Art as Social and Political Commentary with Professor Paul Von Blum’s, Moises decided to curate and art exhibit for his class. Moises then teamed up with his friend Tami to create the exhibit and after putting out a call for art submissions, Moises and Tami received many willing participants. Centered on mental Health, the students hope this exhibit helps to foster more open discussion about mental health illnesses and bring greater awareness of the need for more resources.
To better share the students’ message, Library staff met with Moises and Tami to learn about their experience creating the exhibit. In addition, we spoke with Professor Paul Von Blum about his course and his students’ involvement in curating their own exhibits.
Interview with Tami and Moises
Why was this exhibit created?
Tami and Moises explained that they wanted to “help reduce the stigma” associated with mental health issues. In response to recent UCLA suicides, the two decided to help bring greater attention to the issues regarding mental health and centered their exhibit on this purpose.
“Mental health is relevant. There is not one person that is not connected to mental health issues… People either battle with mental health issues or know someone who battles with it so we are all connected to this issue” - Tami
Both Tami and Moises shared the same sentiment when discussing the purpose of their exhibit. One problem for people struggling with mental health is the fact that resources are very limited.
“Mental health issues are seen differently than other health issues…we live in a culture that desensitizes the issue…people don’t talk about it and that’s not how it should be” -Tami
They both shared that, unlike other health issues, there is “no forum or support groups to talk about it [mental health]”. They agreed that lack of support and resources means people are left to struggle with their mental health, alone. Therefore, creating more accessible resources like support groups and counseling is a crucial first step in helping people.
Why an art exhibit? What kind of pieces were displayed and what was the criteria for selecting the pieces?
“Art is a perfect medium. People use art to cope with it [mental health]... and there’s no clear right or wrong or black and white in art”. “It’s mostly gray, just like in the way that we express ourselves” - Tami
Tami explained that the art pieces showcased in the exhibit represent what it feels like to deal with mental health issues while others pieces were created by artists who themselves use art as a way cope. In regards to their selection process, Tami and Moises explains that, after putting out a call for submissions and reaching out to artists and friends, they selected pieces that were professional, appropriate to the exhibit purpose, and that related to the theme of mental health
Did you have other venue places in mind? Why did you choose Powell?
When asked about why they chose Powell as the location for their exhibit Moises explained that while looking for venue locations he had remember seeing an art exhibit poster in Powell when he came in to study. Tami and Moises shared that Powell was the perfect place for their exhibit. Moises explains that he tried contacting Kerckhoff, Hillel, and the Luskin Hotel but when he couldn’t get a spot anywhere he decided to reach out about hosting their exhibit here.
“I called Powell…I filled out the form… and then we met and planned the exhibit” – Moises
When they found out that it was possible to have their exhibit here Tami shared, “I thought that would be amazing! Powell gets more exposure… so many people pass through here. It’s literally the center of the campus…everyone comes here to study”
What has been most rewarding about working on this exhibit?
Tami shared that the most rewarding part of the exhibit was seeing how it touched her peers. She and people she knew had recently lost a friend due to mental health. Therefore, this exhibit was made to commemorate their friend as well as to serve as a platform to encourage further discussion about mental health. She explains there were a lot of reactions from students who thanked them for doing the exhibit and believes it was a beneficial experience which hopefully served as a “form of closure”.
When asked about his experience curating this art exhibit Moises shared that it was his first time doing this and that it was a valuable and rewarding experience.
“Finding out people really enjoyed it and learned from it. I learned that art has such a powerful effect to enact change and that we should appreciate art in its many forms.” – Moises
What have you heard feedback from your peers about this exhibit?
When asked about the reactions received about their exhibit Tami and Moises shared that they received a lot of positive feedback from their peers who came to support the exhibit. They believe the exhibit served to be beneficial for many and both shared the same sentiment about hoping that the exhibit provided a meaningful experience for their peers.
What do you want peers to learn from your exhibit or take away from it?
“Tolerance. To be Open and accepting… To discuss. I want people to think about it, question it, and talk about it.” - Tami
“I would like them to reflect on their own mental health because many people have mental health issues but do not talk about them or address them and it is important to know about this. I want them to be aware that they are not alone, and that there are other people who also experience this.” – Moises
Thank you, Moises and Tami!
Interview with Professor Paul Von Blum
After talking with Tami and Moises, we wanted to learn more about the course and why students were curating their own exhibits for the class. So we sat down with Professor Paul Von Blum who shared much about his time teaching the course, Critical Vision: History of Art as Social and Political Commentary.
Can you tell us a little bit about your class?
Professor Paul Von Blum recounts that it was 1983 when he started teaching this course, which focuses on visual arts as a form of political and social commentary and is also the longest lasting Honors Course at UCLA.
He further shared that students enrolled into the class must first stop by his office and meet with him to introduce themselves and express their interest in the class. Von Blum explains that this allows him to meet every individual that signs up and to better know the students and vice versa – allowing for stronger teacher – student relationship.
Can you tell us about the assignment that allows students to create an exhibit for the class?
When reflecting back on how he came up with the exhibit assignment, he remembered thinking, “a few students may want to be really adventurous and may want to curate an exhibit”. Von Blum himself has done curation and, although curating an exhibit is not mandatory for his class, he continues to encourage his students to do it.
Past students had shared intimate personal stories through their exhibits and as Von Blum reflected, he recalled some memorable ones. He states, “10 to 12 years ago I had a student who did an exhibit on breast cancer. She had been a breast cancer survivor”. He shared that this student had shared her story about battling and overcoming breast cancer as well as personal photographs. Another student had shared about her experience with having plastic surgery. The student had gone through multiple plastic surgery operations until one surgery went wrong. Through her exhibit, she was able to talk about the “insidious nature of plastic surgery” as well as share her personal experience with others.
Von Blum also stressed the importance of having his students’ exhibits be accessible and “available to the UCLA community”. Therefore, his students have used various venues on campus and nearby, including Powell Library. When speaking about how Powell has served as a venue for his students he commented: “Powell is a magnificent venue … and supportive staff.”
What do you want students to gain from this experience?
“They will never forget this. It’s often the only opportunity they have to do something like this. It’s so much better than taking an exam. If they take an exam they will forget everything after. This will be something they remember and they cherish. It allows them to become their own curator.”
Talking to Moises, Tami, and Von Blum makes it evident that these exhibits have served as more than just an alternative to a paper assignment. They are an important platform that allows students to share personal narratives, fosters discussion on various social topics, and encourages further engagement within the UCLA community. All in all, this experience not only allows students to create engaging exhibits but, more importantly, meaningful memories.
Thank you, Professor Paul Von Blum. We look forward seeing future student exhibits in the Powell Library!
Submit a form to Request an Event or Exhibit at Powell: https://www.library.ucla.edu/powell/request-event-or-exhibit-powell