Photo exhibit encourages diversity, identity discussion

Cleveland sophomore Raivon Bledsoe, left, and Sacramento, Calif junior Shaylin-Kaliea Martin, center, look at the Fusion interactive exhibit Wednesday, October 26, 2016 on Centennial Mall. “I enjoyed this piece for the culture that was displayed,” Martin said. Ebony Cox/HERALD

Monica Kast

A photo exhibition encouraging students to discuss American diversity and identity was featured on campus Wednesday.

The exhibition, called “As American As,” displayed photos of people who live in America of different genders, ethnicities and ages. Each photo was nearly 8 feet tall and ranging from 24 to 28 feet wide, according to Scottie Ellis, a community liaison for Fusion. Fusion, a television channel and digital journalism website, put on the exhibition.

“They depict different images of diversity, ranging from race, cultures, sexual identity, gender identity, women’s rights,” Ellis said. “For Fusion, diversity includes a lot more than just the color of your skin. So it was really important for us to encompass all of those different factors.”

Sam Ford, vice president of innovation and engagement at Fusion and an adjunct professor of popular culture, said the exhibition took phrases like “As American as apple pie” or “As American as baseball,” and looked at broadening that to “wider images of the United States.”

The photographs were taken by Gillian Laub around the New York area. Ellis said the subjects of the photos “are not models, which is pretty cool.”

The photos were displayed in Centennial Mall, and students were encouraged to take a picture next to the one that stood out to them the most, and post it on social media. After posting the picture with the hashtag #AsAmericanAs students could get a t-shirt or water bottle from Fusion representatives.

Louisville freshman Erin Elliot visited the exhibit with friends on Wednesday. Elliot said they were walking through campus and saw the display and t-shirts, and stopped to look at them. For Elliott, the image that resonated the most was that of a gay couple.

“As part of the LGBTQ community, it’s good to see that represented in the media,” Elliott said. “That way it’s normalized and there’s less backlash.”

Louisville freshman Samra Ardic stopped at the display with Elliott. For her, the most powerful image was one of a shirtless woman who had a tattoo saying “My Body My Rights.” Ardic said it was good to see representation of “loving your own body.”

“Empowering women on a college campus is so important,” Ardic said.

The As American As exhibition has been traveling around the country to different college campuses, according to Ford. Ellis said she felt the timing of the exhibition was “perfect,” given the current election and discussions about diversity occurring in the U.S.

“This is the perfect time right now, where you see so much division nationwide, and because of just national conversations,” Ellis said. “It’s a good opportunity to just talk to people who are the next leaders in this world and really take advantage of that opportunity and have a conversation with them about something that’s very important to the makeup of the U.S.”

Nick Gilyard, a community liaison for Fusion, said Fusion representatives were at the exhibit as a “sounding board about diversity” to encourage conversations about diversity and what Americans look like in 2016.

“When you close your eyes and think of ‘what is an American,’ everyone’s going to come up with a different image, and I think part of our installation is saying that’s okay,” Gilyard said. “It should be different, because we shouldn’t all be trying to fit one archetype of what it means to be an American.”

Reporter Monica Kast can be reached at 270-745-6011 or at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @monicakastwku.