Installation Depicts Marginalized Students’ Resilience

The minds behind Project: Token from left to right: Nate Nido ’21, Cynthia Rodriguez ’20, Maurice Norman ’20, and Anmar Jerjees ’18 Photo by Emma Brentjens ’21

By: Mary Margaret Robison ’21

Staff Writer

Maurice Norman ’20 has been spearheading Project: Token since the beginning of this semester, and now the project has come to life with an installation behind the Black Student Coalition (BSC). Project: Token embodies ethnic resilience and advocacy through various interviews and photographs with students of color on campus. Interviews and photography included in the installation express the relationship between race and place on Davidson’s campus.

Norman said that the inspiration for the project first arose during a meeting for Bonner Scholars. Dean of Students Byron McRae came to the meeting to speak about the Duke Endowment Resiliency Grant, sparking Norman’s interest in a potential project on campus regarding the ethnic depth of Davidson and causing him to pursue the grant himself.

Norman, with guidance from Dr. Garry Bertholf, a member of the English and Africana Studies departments, and help from fellow Bonner Scholar Anmar Jerjees ‘18 and students Cynthia Rodriguez ‘20 and Nate Nido ‘21 (the project photographer), began the process of outlining his project and applying for the Resiliency Grant.

Norman wanted to “expose the narratives of the students of color” and create an installation that would deeply impact the student population. Norman hoped to make an impression on Davidson’s campus for far longer than he would be a student here.

Bertholf began to work with Norman at the beginning of the semester, advising him on Project: Token. Bertholf said he talked with Norman on ways the “materiality of social identity might play itself out in as the work of art itself” and the form of black art as a “mode/modality of deterritorialization/defamiliarization.”

Bertholf also encouraged Norman to think about the “global reach” of his project, as Norman is studying abroad next year in both Kumasi, Ghana, and Sydney, Australia. This will “necessarily shape the project in a more specifically diasporic direction.” Bertholf expressed that he hoped the project would “unsettle some of the college’s presumptions and narratives about the interplay between race and space.”

The installation currently stands behind the BSC on Patterson Court. “It’s a literal wall,” Norman explains, giving it a vantage point from everywhere on the court. It draws readers in to understand the accounts of various of students of color on campus, coupled with pictures Norman compiled.

When assembling his interviewees, Norman said he made it a goal to “depersonalize” himself from his friend group and reach out to strangers. He made it a mission to pick strangers and described how he literally picked up some students “on the sidewalk.” His goal was to reach out to students across campus to get “real” perspectives and give depth to his project and to Davidson’s campus of color.

Saidah Rahman ’20, a runner for Davidson’s Track and Field Team, was one such student included. She said Project: Token allowed for her voice “to be amplified throughout the Davidson community.” Rahman said she felt Project: Token “relays an important message for students that have the privilege of not having to constantly think about their identity.”

Rahman hopes the project, through the various narratives from students, will create a more “inclusive” environment on Davidson’s campus and allow for students to “reflect on their own privilege.” Rahman said the interview made her feel not as a “subset of the student experience” but rather “an integral part of its complexity.” Through reading these narratives, Rahman believes students are able to “gather perspectives they may not otherwise consider.”

After doing interviews, Norman, a double major in English and Africana Studies, then took time compiling the interviews into a poetic stance. He spent hours listening to the interviews and then transformed them into a lyrical mode. Norman framed the interviews in poetic meter, tracking breath patterns and transferring them to poetic meter to impact readers.

The second part of Project: Token will take place on May 2nd in the Lilly Gallery from 6:00-7:00 P.M.

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