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Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice

Art, Culture, and Public Humanities

Through film, music, archival sources, and literary texts, researchers explore the role of the arts in expressing the pain and suffering of incarceration and social death, and the power of cultural resistance against discrimination, dehumanization, and enslavement.

The Arts as Black Resistance in Eighteenth-Century London  

The Life and World of Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780)

“The Arts as Black Resistance in Eighteenth-Century London: The Life and World of Ignatius Sancho (1729–1780)” is an interdisciplinary, arts-focused research group affiliated with the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice at Rutgers-New Brunswick and comprised of faculty from the Mason Gross School of the Arts (Departments of Music and Theater), the School of Arts and Sciences (Departments of Art History, English, and History), and the Rutgers University Libraries as well as scholars from institutions elsewhere in the United States and the United Kingdom. We will work to build a public-facing, digital platform that addresses the arts in the worldview and practice of Ignatius Sancho, a Black British writer and musician who was deeply engaged with the visual and performing arts as means for resisting discrimination, dehumanization, and the enslavement of Black people in London and across the British empire. Our digital project, which will include audio/visual materials as well as explanatory essays written by members of the research group, will offer a new understanding of eighteenth-century London, situating Ignatius Sancho within a racially and culturally complex landscape and highlighting the role of the arts in advancing the cause of racial justice.

Image credit: Francesco Bartolozzi, engraving of Ignatius Sancho after a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough (1768). The engraving was later printed in the posthumous collection Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African.

Led by Rebecca Cypess, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers–New Brunswick

Engraving of Ignatius Sancho

The Hurt of the Past, the Wounds of the Present  

Greek Drama, Incarceration, and Humanity’s Dialogue

The Hurt of the Past, the Wounds of the Present is a collaboration between Rutgers associate professor Emily Allen-Hornblower (School of Arts and Science, Classics, Rutgers–New Brunswick) and her partners: mainly, Nafeesah Goldsmith, Edward Kates, and Marquis McCray, survivors of the New Jersey carceral system and passionate criminal and social justice advocates. The project engages the public in community conversations about the power of ancient Greek tragedy to elucidate mass incarceration by focusing on the resonance of ancient plays and their themes for (currently and formerly) incarcerated men and women. Together, this team of collaborators hoists the power of storytelling (ancient and modern) to spark meaningful exchanges about what it means to be human and the dehumanization of prisons, putting the shared humanity of all front and center. Our goal is to create a digital archive of these communal dialogues, including a podcast and documentary film trailer.

Led by Emily Allen-Hornblower, School of Arts and Science, Classics, Rutgers–New Brunswick

Sculpture of bound hands

Advancing Studies of Queer Black Dance through Research, Curriculum, and Public Engagement

What is “queer black dance?” How might choreography help us to understand the inseparable, intimate relationship between sexuality, race, and gender? This program explores these questions with David Roussève and former artists of his “REALITY” dance company. Roussève is a choreographer/writer/director/performer, a Guggenheim Fellow, a “Bessie” awardee, Creative Capital Fellow, 3-time Horton awardee, CalArts/Alpert awardee in Dance, recipient of 4 “Best Film” awards for his three short films, and grantee of 7 consecutive NEA fellowships. Since 1988, his dance/theater company REALITY has performed throughout the UK, Europe, S. America, and the U.S including four commissions for the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival. In 2018 Roussève premiered the full-evening REALITY work “Halfway to Dawn”, a piece that seeks to uncover the emotional ‘truths’ in the life of gay, immensely private African American jazz composer and Duke Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn.   

Led by  Alessandra Lebea Williams, Assistant Professor of Dance, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Black Queer Dance

Collective Yearning: Black Women Artists from the Zimmerli Museum

The Institute for Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice is supporting the production of a publication that will document the evolution of Collective Yearning: Black Women Artists from the Zimmerli Art Museum, from its germination in a class assignment, development into a graduate level seminar topic, and physical launch as an exhibition on the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. The book will offer strategies for addressing holes in learning goals, strengthening classes to reach university-wide curriculum requirements while also serving student needs and university diversity and equity initiatives, and celebrate the excellent student work that manifested in the exhibition. 

Led by Amber N. Wiley, Director, Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites, Presidential Associate Professor, University of Pennsylvania

The exhibition and programming was sponsored by the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities and the Zimmerli Art Museum. Funding provided by Douglass Residential College, the Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice, and an anonymous donation. Co-sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Leadership. 

Collective Yearning

Sandy Rodriguez: To Translate the Unfathomable 

Sandy Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based Mexican-American artist, has been named the 2022-23 Estelle Lebowitz Endowed Visiting Art at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Her work will be featured in a solo exhibition in the Mary H. Dana Women Artists Series Galleries at Douglass Library, and she will also be in residence across the three Rutgers campuses—New Brunswick, Newark, and Camden. The exhibition will be curated by Tatiana Flores, Director of the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities and professor of Art History, and advised by Camilla Townsend, Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Rutgers Working Group of Hemispheric Indigenous Studies. 

Sandy Rodriguez’s recent work consists of maps, botanical studies, and figural compositions painted on handmade amate paper with techniques, forms, and pigments of Mesoamerican manuscripts produced by the Mexica people and other Mexican natives in the first century after the Conquest of Mexico (1519-21). The selection to be shown at Rutgers engages with themes of migration, ancestral memory, Indigenous knowledge systems, and hemispheric colonial histories. One part of the exhibition will be focused on the study drawings for Mapa for Malinche and our Stolen Sisters (2021), a recent commission of the Denver Art Museum of a large-scale map of Mexico and portions of the U.S. Southwest that traces the life of Malintzin, an Indigenous woman who served as translator for conquistador Hernán Cortés. Popularly known as La Malinche, her legacy looms large over Mexican culture—she is both commemorated as a feminist and reviled as a traitor. The remaining selection will consist of assorted recent drawings and maps that bring the past into the present through work focused on themes of migrant persecution and detention, family separation, and the persistence and recovery of Indigenous ancestral knowledge. The exhibition will be the artist’s first solo show on the East Coast. It will be accompanied by an online catalogue with essays by Tatiana Flores and Camilla Townsend. 

Sandy Rodriguez has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Creative Capital grant, the Caltech-Huntington Art + Research Residency, and the City of Los Angeles COLA Master Artist Fellowship. Her work forms part of important museum collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Amon Carter Museum, and the Denver Art Museum.   

This project is led by Tatiana Flores, Director of the Center for Women in the Arts and Humanities and professor of Art History, and advised by Camilla Townsend, Distinguished Professor of History and director of the Rutgers Working Group of Hemispheric Indigenous Studies. 

Image: Sandy Rodriguez, Mapa for Malinche and our Stolen Sisters, 2021

Sandy Rodriguez, Mapa for Malinche and our Stolen Sisters, 2021

Black Lunch Table Oral History Archive Launch 

This grant developed the BLT community-driven online digital archive for dynamic access to the BLT audio recordings. The Archive provides access to the content, supports the foundation of a new Linked Open Data (LOD) ecosystem, and offers a data model surrounding Black studies, art and social justice topics. 

Led by Heather Hart,  Assistant Professor of Art and Design, Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University-New Brunswick

Black Lunch Table

The Mexican Borderlands Research Group

The Mexican Borderlands have long been a primary site of racial discrimination in the Americas.  For over half a century, and particularly in the past few years, US migration policy at the border has been a vehicle for xenophobic sentiment and racialized practices toward Mexican and Central American migrants.  Since the inauguration of NAFTA in 1994, the northern states of Mexico have also witnessed a chilling wave of violence, most prominently associated with the mass murder of women and the Mexican government’s failed war on drugs, which has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives in the country since 2006.  In response to this discrimination and violence, community groups, activists, scholars, and artists on both sides of the border have found numerous ways to advocate and to mourn, as well as to contribute to the rich tradition of intercultural exchange that continues to thrive across national lines.  The study of the Mexican Borderlands recognizes both the material sources of injustice in the area and the ways that communities and individuals have struggled to combat them.  

The Mexican Borderlands Research Group involves faculty and graduate students interested in exploring these and other issues related to the US-Mexico Border. In Spring 2023, the group will co-sponsor two events: a March 8, 2023 talk by cultural historian Oswaldo Zavala titled “The Invention of the Narco” and a session led by border artist Sandy Rodriguez during her visit to Rutgers from April 3-7, 2023.   

The faculty leaders for 2022-23 are Jeffrey Lawrence (Associate Professor of English), Tatiana Flores (Professor in the Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and the Department of Art History) and Camilla Townsend (Distinguished Professor of History), Rutgers-New Brunswick,

Image credit: Sandy Rodriguez / Rutgers University Spring 2023 exhibit, "To Translate the Unfathomable."

Migrants captured cages and abused in ICE detention across So Califas 2020 2021

Broad and Arch: Stories of Poverty and Houselessness in Philadelphia, Past and Present

“Broad and Arch: Stories of Poverty and Houselessness in Philadelphia, Past and Present” is a multiphase project that will activate histories of poverty, houselessness, and incarceration in Philadelphia in collaboration with people experiencing poverty and houselessness in the present. It will facilitate public dialogue about race, class, and punishment at the site of Arch Street Prison, built in the 1800s to incarcerate poor, unhoused people. As a whole, the project will explore the ways in which poverty has been defined and experienced across the centuries in three phases: documentation and data collection, curation and display of an outdoor pop-up exhibit, and creative public programming.

“Broad and Arch” puts scholarly and popular understandings of poverty and punishment into conversation, by organizing horizontal knowledge exchange among people experiencing poverty and houselessness, scholars who study these subjects in the past and present, and the general public, inviting the exploration of historical questions in community with one another. In its structure as well as the questions it will ask, this project aligns with the ISGRJ mission of advancing humanities research in ways that “increases its public relevance and impact,” creating opportunities for scholars “to reach and learn from communities and publics beyond the academy.” The primary audience for the project is people currently experiencing poverty and housing insecurity, who spend much of their days and nights on the streets in Arch Street Prison’s former neighborhood, as well as other members of the local community and tourists who walk through this part of the city on their way to Independence Hall. These participants will be drawn from the membership of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, an organization dedicated to serving the material and social needs of unhoused populations. 

Led by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, Assistant Teaching Professor & Coordinator of Public History,  History Department, Rutgers-New Brunswick

Homelessness - AdobeStock_372348876

Latino New Jersey: A Research and Public Humanities Project

For ten years ago the Latino Studies Research Initiative at Rutgers has served as the organizational umbrella for faculty projects on Latinos at Rutgers, including oral history work, institutional and civil rights history, historical blogs and documenting the history of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Rutgers and in New Jersey. 

LSRI has funded multiple faculty and graduate student research grants and held over a dozen research symposia on interdisciplinary research on Latinos at Rutgers and the history of Latinos in the US. More recently the LSRI is sponsoring an edited collection of essays on Latinos in New Jersey, co-edited by Aldo Lauria Santiago and Ulla Berg (forthcoming with Rutgers University Press). 

The New Jersey Historical Commission has funded the creation of a multimedia, public humanities website that will accompany this book. Professors Kathleen Lopez and Lauria Santiago are also developing work on the history of Latinos in New Jersey and at Rutgers which will include a digital archive based on the records of the Department of Puerto Rican/Latino Studies at Rutgers, the Latino Oral History Project, initiated by Prof. Lilia Fernandez and continued by Professor Lopez, and other related products on Latinos in New Jersey and US Latino Histories.  Two public humanities websites on Puerto Rican community history in New York City and New Jersey are also under production. LSRI also collaborates with the Hispanic Research and Information Center, the Latino Oral history collection and the Puerto Rican Community Archive of the Newark Public Library.  

Coordinated by Professor Aldo Lauria Santiago (Professor of Latino and Caribbean Studies and History, School of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Center for Latin American Studies, Rutgers New Brunswick) and Kathleen Lopez (Associate Professor, Department of Latino and Caribbean Studies and the Department of History, School of Arts and Sciences, Rutgers New Brunswick)

AdobeStock_Hispanic Students on Campus

New Perspectives on Haiti

This project calls for new perspectives on contemporary Haiti and Haitian history and asks the question: What is the place of Haiti in the landscape of global racial justice? A historical reckoning that explicates the ongoing marginalization of Haiti from universal narratives of racial justice is imperative. This project’s contribution is to re-position “the gaze”—a key element in colonial control, the gaze also offers the possibility for subversion— and look at how the fight for racial justice operates from inside Haiti, by Haitians. 

The first event featured the screening of FREDA, a film by Haitian writer-director Gessica Généus. The film follows the life of Freda, a young Haitian woman, who lives in a poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Her family makes ends meet thanks to their small street shop in the Haitian capital. Faced with precarious living conditions and the rise of violence in Haiti, each of them wonders whether to stay or leave. Freda wants to believe in the future of her country.

The screening was followed by a discussion between film writer and director Gessica Généus and New Perspectives on Haiti project lead Shanna Jean-Baptiste (Assistant Professor of French, Rutgers New-Brunswick).

Freda Movie IMDB2.jpg

Reel Empowerment

How can young people develop lifelong habits of giving? Habits that not only empower them to meaningfully contribute to and uplift their own communities, but also meaningfully contribute to and positively transform communities across the globe? Philanthropy, defined, simply means “love of humanity.” Despite the simplicity of this definition, the idea of philanthropy—and, relatedly the idea of oneself being a philanthropist—is an unrelatable concept to many young adults, especially those born into what society has deemed marginalized existences

In this project undergraduate students at RU-N enrolled in Philanthropy and Volunteerism class, will have an opportunity to make a sizeable donation (ranging between $5k – $10k) to nonprofit organizations in and around the City of Newark, NJ (funding for the donation provided by Learning by Giving Foundation). Through autoethnographic documentary-style filmmaking, students will navigate their newly internalized role identities as philanthropists while providing insight into the issues and causes they care about, the nonprofits and community agencies they believe are best
suited to address these issues, and their efforts to uplift and transform their communities through their philanthropy. 

Led by Lindsey McDougle, Rutgers-Newark School of Public Affairs and Administration

Reel Empowerment Project.jpg
Engraving of Ignatius Sancho
Sculpture of bound hands
Black Queer Dance
Collective Yearning
Sandy Rodriguez, Mapa for Malinche and our Stolen Sisters, 2021
Black Lunch Table
Migrants captured cages and abused in ICE detention across So Califas 2020 2021
Homelessness - AdobeStock_372348876
AdobeStock_Hispanic Students on Campus
Freda Movie IMDB2.jpg
Reel Empowerment Project.jpg