The Human Spirit Has Many Textures, It is Not a Paste

Waffa Bilal and the Rensselaer Community:

After the censorship of Waffa Bilal’s piece at RPI, a strange thing happened in an art class on campus. I am Teaching Assistant and my students were supposed to perform an original artwork using their bodies.

One of my students was afraid to do his performance. He pulled me aside and asked if he might be arrested, investigated by the FBI or just whisked away namelessly forever. I counseled him as we watched for more signs of private security surveillance of the RPI Arts Building.

I told him not to surrender so quickly to repression. I told him that the spasmodic reactions to Waffa’s artworks were just performances by patriot actors who didn’t respect the essence of our democratic rights. I told him that my class was a safe space for freedom of expression and speech.

My student was worried about being punished for the content of his performance and the message that he meant to portray. I suggested to him that life was full of hardship and challenges and it was a good habit not to censor or self-censor when confronted by differing opinions. I asked him remember the Boston Tea Party and keep performance art close to his heart.

He agreed to perform but refused to be documented performing.
I respected his privacy and he put on a fine show.

I have never had a student be afraid to express him or herself in any of my art classes before this day.

I am saddened the actions of RPI Art Censorship and by the disdain shown to young minds steeping in the humanities. The art students here need to grow in a environment that allows them to have encouragement, pride and security in their creative, personal, subjective and expressive goals. They need to know that RPI is a real University now. Instead, the retrograde character armor of cold war mentality is nipping our young artists in the buds.

Thank you for opening a bridge to dialogue of the future Waffa.
Certainly you inspired responses, grounded as well as less well rounded.

Lets hope that there is room in the future for the spice of many voices
so our global melting pot doesn’t just turn to enforced mono-cultural muck.

peace and difference,

Adam Zaretsky
PhD Candidate
RPI Arts

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