Guest Artist Shanna Merola Discusses Art, Science, and Activism with Students

Shanna Merola, whose work has been on exhibit in the Schumacher Gallery, met with students to talk about her work as an artist and social activist.

Guest Artist Shanna Merola Discusses Art, Science, and Activism with Students

Shanna Merola, whose photographic collages exhibition, "We All Live Downwind," has been on display in Westover's Schumacher Gallery, visited the School to speak at an all-school assembly and to meet with groups of students about her work as an artist, photographer, and social activist. Her exhibition will be on display through March 2.

In addition to her work as an artist, Merola describes herself as "a human rights observer during political uprisings across the country – from the deeply embattled struggle for water rights in Detroit and Flint, Michigan, to the frontlines of Ferguson, Missouri, and Standing Rock, North Dakota." She said her collages and constructed landscapes "are informed by these events." Now a resident of Detroit, Merola also facilitates Know-Your-Rights workshops on best practices during police encounters and coordinates legal support for grassroots organizations through the Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

"During my two days as a visiting artist at Westover," Merola said, "I had the opportunity to meet with a diverse cross-section of the student body, from science classes with a focus on climate change and environmental justice, to individual portfolio critiques with AP photography students. Through one-on-one conversations, each student artist walked me though her process, speaking passionately about her concerns for current social issues. I was inspired to hear about these ideas, as well as the rigorous approach students bring to the research and studio phase of individual projects. I am grateful for the experience to have connected with such an engaged and insightful student body and supportive faculty."

During her presentation at a Visiting Artist Assembly, Merola reviewed her diverse experiences as an artist and activist. She spoke about her efforts, while a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, to photograph sites that were connected to the city's historical connections to slavery, and her work with local groups who are attempting to put up markers at various sites in memory of the city's slaves. When she later moved to Bangor, Maine, she worked to support the working class, farmers, and small businesses. While pursuing her graduate studies in the Detroit area, she became active in neighborhood programs, safe drinking water concerns, and other social issues.

During her two-day visit she met with students in Caleb Portfolio's Photography and Advanced Placement Studio Art 2D Design classes, as well as students in Biology and Climate Change science elective classes. She also had lunch with students and faculty who are active in the School's Rasin Center for Global Justice.

Shanshan Chan '18, a photography student, said that "getting feedback from an artist like Shanna was really helpful in developing my project in my Pixels with Purpose class. Because she has been working with marrying journalism with abstract photography, she creates a new way of understanding current issues that is more comprehensive. Similarly, I seek to find ways in which photos can visually reveal hidden narratives for social justice without exploiting the topics."

"When Shanna came and looked at my work she was very helpful," said photography student Emily Desjardins '18. "She told me that I should publish my work on a website, give it to an organization to use for their website, or put it in an auction to raise money for cancer. Her saying that really opened my eyes and truly inspired me to go more in-depth in my work."

Theresa Shi '19 was one of the students who met with Merola during the Rasin Center lunch; she also met with the artist one-on-one to discuss Theresa's photography project. "Just knowing what she has done is pretty encouraging to me," Theresa said, "and she definitely is a role model for me."

The Schumacher Gallery is located in the Louise B. Dillingham Performing Arts Center on South Street. Visitors must access the gallery through the main entrance of the School. The gallery is open Mondays through Fridays from 12 noon until 5 pm and Saturdays from 1 to 5 pm; it is closed on Sundays.