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Mbisana Kgakgamatso, a senior from Tutume, a village in Botswana, took faculty member Amy Stevens’ summer course, GSR 300: Art of Protest. During this course, Stevens taught her students about the medium of art and channeling important political and social messages through various creative outlets. 

One of the examples Stevens presented to her students was the work of artist Oree Originol, as his work was on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. One piece,“Justice for Our Lives” spotlights the victims of police brutality and brings awareness to the myriad instances of police brutality that occur across our country every day, especially towards marginalized communities. Originol wanted to honor victims of social injustice and create a space for communal grieving. 

Oree Originol’s artwork from the “Justice for Our Lives” exhibit

Kgakgamatso, inspired by Originol’s work, created his own interpretation of Originol’s mission. In Kgakgamatso’s work, he shifted the focus to deaf and hard of hearing victims of police brutality. Kgakgamatso researched people in the Deaf community who have experienced violence under similar circumstances. He incorporated the color palette from the well-known protest artwork, “We Came, We Saw, We Conquered,” by deaf artist Nancy Rourke. Her work, in turn, was inspired by Francisco Goya’s “The Third of May, 1808.” Kgakgamatso’s posters draw a direct line from Goya’s freedom fighter with his hands up that echo the refrain, “Hands Up. Don’t Shoot!” 

Kgakgamatso’s artwork, inspired by Oree Originol

Originol’s mission was to create an ongoing, online, and public social justice art movement. Kgakgamatso has done just that with a deaf lens. Professor Stevens shared Kgakgamatso’s posters with the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. 

Stevens also arranged a Zoom meeting between Kgakgamatso and Originol. During the meeting, on September 29, Originol said that he was touched by Kgakgamatso’s artwork. He expressed his passion about social justice issues. and spoke passionately about the discrimination and violence that black- and brown-skinned individuals face in American society, and how he wanted to be able to exist on this Earth as a human being. Pervasive issues such as racism and police brutality create the need for more activism, said Originol — and he saw Kgakgamatso’s work as a prime example of this activism expressed through art.. 

Kgakgamatso is a biology major, and Stevens was neither his academic advisor nor his major coordinator, but she made sure that this connection happened and that it was successful. It is genuinely exciting to see our students exploring interdisciplinary studies and expressing themselves through creative mediums.
Congratulations to Mbisana Kgakgamatso on his powerful artwork and on this exciting connection!

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