In Spring 2016, I developed and taught the course Activist Art in Mexico, which offered me the opportunity to introduce new pedagogies in the classroom and get unique insights and inspiration from my students’ work.
As a fourth-year Visual Studies Ph.D. Candidate, I was awarded the Chancellor’s Graduate Teaching Fellowship in order to design and teach my own undergraduate course for the History of Art and Visual Culture Department in Spring 2016. Activist Art in Mexicocovered the visual culture of social movements in Mexico from the Mexican Revolution to the present day. Teaching this course supported my pedagogical and research goals based around my dissertation project, which investigates the role of visual culture in the Oaxaca Commune, a political uprising in Oaxaca City, Mexico in 2006.
I designed Activist Art in Mexico with experimental pedagogical techniques in mind, based on active learning strategies intended to foster more intensive engagement with course material, cultivate improved absorption of key learning objectives, promote student involvement in the curriculum, and nurture a collegial classroom environment. I implemented cooperative groups, which consisted of student discussion groups that remained consistent for the quarter and would meet for the entire class period to discuss all of the material from a given unit (after approximately every three classes).
In a course without sections, this really gave students the opportunity to discuss the course material in detail in affinity groups where they grew quite comfortable talking with one another. For each group discussion day, one or two students in the group would facilitate their group’s dialogue, posing questions and bringing in related material to keep the conversation going. During the group discussions, I roved around and sat with each group, listening to students dialoguing and making sense of material in ways that I would not otherwise have thought of. I found this a profoundly interesting and humbling experience and learned so much from my students!
I also used course blogs to extend the course dialogue outside of the classroom. We had a course motherblog (see link below) and each student had their own blog linked to it. Students completed blog assignments for each unit we covered in class, writing a brief reflection on the unit material. They also engaged with one another’s blog posts, keeping the classroom conversation going online. I was super impressed with all of the activism and organizing that students were doing, and the blogs offered them an opportunity to develop collaborations with one another for course work but also for their activism. Some students also posted links and information for artists or activist work related to the material we were studying, which expanded upon and enlivened our subject in new and exciting ways.
The course also encouraged engagement with visual culture outside of the classroom and incorporated two field trips during the quarter. For the first field trip, we went to the San Jose Museum of Art for the Border Cantos exhibit – a collaboration between photographer Richard Misrach and multimedia artist Guillermo Galindo that investigated the U.S.-Mexico border and the lived realties of the people that these borderlands and their politics affect most directly (see image). The second trip was a visit to a gallery in San Jose called Curate Good, while they were hosting a very special exhibit of political prints from Mexican and U.S. artists. This show, titled Monarcha, included a huge collection of prints from Oaxacan artist-activists, with several prints from the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO), which we were studying in class.
Lastly, I built active research practice into the curriculum. Each student was responsible for an individual or collaborative quarter-long project, which could either be a research paper or a community activism project. I was blown away by the creativity, ingenuity, and scope of student projects. One student interviewed and photographed her parents at work – both of them undocumented farm workers for Driscoll’s, a very controversial local produce company that has faced much criticism for poor treatment of workers, low wages, and blocking the union. A collaborative student group did a campus-wide guerilla art activism project intervening in public spaces of the university. It was very effective and inspiring!
The last unit of my course was on the Oaxaca Commune, which offered a great transition into my summer fieldwork in Oaxaca once the class ended. To read more about my research and activist experience in Oaxaca, click here.
This course takes a case study approach to contemporary activist art, investigating the role of visual culture in Mexico’s social movements and related historical struggles from the early 20th century to the present day. It defines activist art broadly to include all forms of visual culture in the service of social change: painting, printmaking, murals, comics, performance, posters, broadsides, etc. The course will be guided by the timely goal of contextualizing very recent events in Mexico and their relevance to both historical and ongoing issues of political crises, activism, globalization, and national identity. We will also take active roles as investigators and learners with quarter-long research and creative projects related to global art activism and current initiatives in our own communities.
“Lorraine is one of the best professors I have ever had, and her class makes me appreciate my field and learning more.”
“I loved this class- the format and assignment and class/lecture structure was really complimentary to the material. I was able to get so much out of this class. Thank you! I hope that this class is offered in the future in this same kind of horizontal and involved format so that other people can take it!!”
“It was a pleasure to learn from Lorraine! I found that she was very knowledgeable and excited about the subject matter, and always willing to learn from students.”
“Excellent pedagogy, really engaging and clearly cares about students’ thoughts and input and students’ understanding of the material- no busywork BS or assignments just because we need some filler grades. Instead, she really gets to know us individual so she can teach to each of us in a way that is engaging and works. The assignments are not busy work, but actually require us to think and synthesize the information we've covered. Discussion based classes are great. Discussion is always welcomed/encouraged outside of class time, too. Really helpful. Lorraine is great.”
“THIS CLASS WAS FUCKING RADDDDDD!! I loved this class a lot. It enabled me to work on some really fun projects with friends and caused me to think about art and activism and visual culture's role in activism in ways I haven't before. Thinking of activist art in this way was extremely helpful for other projects I am working on outside of this class too. I also feel like I have a much better grasp on Mexican history, though I still have a lot to learn.”
“Lorraine's enthusiasm for the subject was contagious and highly enjoyable. She continuously asked for student input and opinion, and it was an overall fantastic learning experience. She's great!”
“She is so knowledgeable on the subject matter and various other subject matters that helped clarify material. Taught in a very understandable way that was very engaging.”
Image Caption: students engage with contemporary art at the San Jose Museum of Art during our field trip to the Border Cantos exhibit in May 2016.