Illuminating history is at your fingertips with the new collection “Revolution: Mark Our Words,” currently on display at the Bulmash Exhibition Hall in Chalmers Library. The display combines art and the history of revolution and is a collaboration between Kenyon and Mount Vernon Nazarene University (MVNU).
During the fall of 2021, Associate Professor of History Eliza Ablovatski and Laura Tabbut, an MVNU adjunct professor and administrator of the Schnormeier Gallery in Mount Vernon, began discussing the similarity between Ablovatski’s spring history seminar, Revolt, Rebellion, Revolution in European History (HIST 338), and Tabbut’s spring History of Graphic Design course at MVNU. They created a project examining the relationship between the industrialization of visual and written work and how revolutions start and develop. “We discussed having our students put together a shared exhibit, with a focus on the physical, printed aspects of the spread of revolutionary ideas,” Ablovatski wrote in an email to the Collegian.
The Kenyon and MVNU students were placed in groups to work on each display case in the exhibit. The MVNU students chose pieces that represented important industrial changes they wanted to address, such as style and font, while the Kenyon students focused on the context of those pieces. “Students searched the catalog and Digital Kenyon (where the Bulmash collection is cataloged, for example) and ordered items they wanted to look at. Then we went to the Special Collections room, where [Head of Special Collections Elizabeth Williams-Clymer] had tables marked out to the size of the display cases,” Ablovatski said.
The exhibit is divided into five display cases and also includes works located on the walls around the room. The majority of the pieces in the displays come from the Kenyon Special Collections. One of the cases analyzes the effects of the industrialization of print on political and religious changes. The case features a part of a famous Gutenberg Bible published in 1457 and explains how the Gutenberg printing press fostered mass production of written work in. Gutenberg’s creation of the printing press ignited the spread of knowledge across the world.
Furthermore, many famous pictures like “Waiting Their Turn: Children’s Clinic: Moscow” taken by Margaret Bourke-White were featured in the exhibit. The picture showed children waiting for a medical exam with Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin behind them. The image was originally published in Fortune, the New York Times Sunday Magazine and Soviet magazines. “It is interesting that in their style and subject matter Bourke-White’s photos are so reminiscent of some of the early Soviet photographers like Alexander Rodchenko, whose collage ‘Books!’ (Knigi!) is in the case as well, and that we used for our exhibit poster,” Ablovatski said.
Another display was about the transition between the Russian Revolution and World War II with contrasts between political regimes and ideas. Dealing with similar themes, the fourth case showed pictures taken by Dorothea Lange of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps. The exhibit states that the photographs were not accessible to the majority of the population until 2006, due to censorship by the United States government.
In the last display case there were pieces including resistance posters made by the Medu Art Ensemble in South Africa in response to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. There was also an example of the folded book project, where a raised fist was folded into the pages of the books. The symbol is known everywhere as a sign of the fight for justice against oppression. The folded books are also a fundraiser for nonprofit organizations in support of Black and Indigenous communities.
Surrounding the display cases are a few works on the walls of the room. One was a part of a project called Framed in Belarus which drew attention to the over 1,000 political prisoners of Belarus. The work was in the form of red and white embroidery. “It is wonderful to get to see and interact with some of the amazing materials from Special Collections. And the students did such an amazing job choosing the materials and putting together the cases. I’m so amazed to see it all come together now in the exhibit space,” said Ablovatski.
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