Where I am: Southern Methodist University by Claudia Zapata
Currently I am in the Art History graduate program at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas. Thus far the experience has been fairly positive in my particular department. Unfortunately with the graduate experience there is a disjunctive relationship with the wider student body and general campus atmosphere. Given the rigorous schedule for graduate students there is usually less time and space for involvement with university programs and organizations. Perhaps in an effort to assuage these disconnections or educate myself on the perspective of the student body within the university I started regularly reading Southern Methodist University’s Yik Yak. The social app, Yik Yak, is an anonymous message feed that allows users to communicate via text and picture, not including faces, within a five mile radius. This app is particularly popular with university students, and one can encounter typical content you may overhear from any undergraduate conversation: popular culture-based jokes, longing for a date…or more, and general complaining. What struck me as odd on SMU’s feed was the recurring, berating and acrimonious disputes about black men and women. Daily racially-motivated pronouncements filled Southern Methodist University’s feed that were mainly about what classified beauty and class-motivated comparisons of quality. The lack of accountability and anonymity have allowed the Yik Yak space to become what CNN calls a “virtual bathroom wall.” Eventually Yik Yak became an insider news source for the University space providing first-hand accounts of racially-motivated parties and their backlash and which led me to the university’s black movement on campus, #BlackatSMU. This Twitter page is the home page for what is being defined as “A movement made to combat injustice and discrimination at Southern Methodist University. We will be heard.” From this page I found a Dropbox with a collections of documented discrimination on campus via digital newsclippings and screenshots of Yik Yak feeds, greekrank.com, and a SMU Frat Facebook event. With collected screenshots and #BlackatSMU’s resources I decided to conflate excerpts from these sources with SMU’s promotional video found on their official Youtube site. Removing the narrator from SMU’s marketing video I inserted the Beach Boy’s track “Be True to Your School,” and looped the promotional video the length of the song. Using similar SMU school colors and similar Yik Yak font I overlayed a square over the promotional video as a sort of conceptual nuisance for the promotion of SMU and reminder of the underbelly of the University’s brand.
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Claudia Zapata is pursuing her Ph.D. at SMU in the RASC/a: Rhetorics of Art, Space and Culture Program in Art History. She received her B.A. and M.A. from University of Texas in art history, specializing in Pre-Columbian and U.S. Latino/Chicano art. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the Curator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, Texas. Her recent projects include the co-founding of ChingoZine, a Latino art zine and Chingolandia, a Latino designer toy line as part of her Latino art collective, Puro Chingón Collective, LLC. Zapatahas curated over 30 exhibitions at the Mexic-Arte Museum and other Texas institutions on subjects such as the commercialization of the Day of the Dead holiday, Mexican dance masks, Contemporary Chicano art, lucha libre in popular culture and more. Her most recent publication acted as the main catalog essay for Margarita Cabrera’sUprooted Dreams, a recent Austin Art in Public Places installation using Oaxacan woodcarving to discuss cultural displacement. Her research interests include curatorial methodologies of identity-based exhibitions, Texas Neo-Chicanoism, exhibition design and people of color zines and designer toys.