Art-ivists: Student artists use creativity for social change

Charlotte Holper, a sophomore art major, created this two self-portrait for a high school portfolio project, which she said represents her journey to self-love and empowerment in her body. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Holper

“Objectify me.” “Catcall me.” “Feel me up.”

Six female Chapman students took an artistic stand against catcalling and female objectification as they stood in the Attallah Piazza Dec. 2016, holding signs with these phrases.

At the center of it all stood Charlotte Holper, a sophomore art major, posing in a nude bodysuit.

Holper said that her personal experience with catcalling has made her feel unsafe and uncomfortable, and that she decided to respond to her experience in a performance art piece for her Introduction to New Genres class last semester. While this was Holper’s first performance art piece, it was not her first time using art to comment on social issues.

“I think that what keeps me going and what keeps me doing art is knowing that it does have an impact on people,” Holper said. “I know that everyone goes through similar experiences and deals with similar things, so I want to relate (my art) to other people.”

Holper, whose primary art forms are painting and drawing, said she began addressing feminism and body positivity through art during her senior year of high school by drawing full-figure self-portraits. Holper said that the experience of drawing herself improved her own body image and helped her learn to love the curves and flaws she once hated. Holper’s art responds to personal experience, she said, but the way people have responded to her art has opened her eyes to the fact that the issues she addresses are universal.

Holper also said her recent performance piece was not officially approved by Chapman because she was wearing a nude bodysuit, but that she went forward with the project with encouragement from her professor.

Allan Brooks, the director of risk management, who Holper said had denied her request for approval, showed up at the performance with a Public Safety officer, Holper said, but didn’t interfere.
Brooks could not be reached for comment.

“There would be no policy preventing an individual student from wearing such a bodysuit in the Attallah Piazza on their own,” Jerry Price, dean of students, wrote in an email to The Panther.

“However, there are different procedures for having class projects approved on campus because such projects can carry a different level of liability.”

Holper said that she knows the school was only concerned for her safety, but feels that the nude bodysuit should not have prevented the performance from getting approved, as she did not feel like she was in danger.

“I don’t think that commenting on my dress is anything (they) should be doing,” Holper said.

Like Holper, Jimmy Xie, a senior sociology major, comments on gender politics through his art, using video performance to break down gender norms and change perceptions of the male body.

“A lot of my work addresses how men are oppressed in this society as well as women,” Xie said. “The body can be really beautiful, and the male body should also be featured, not just the female.”
Xie said that he thinks the sincerity and candidness of his videos, which are unedited, is what resonates with people. His ability to be so honest through his art has caused him to view the world more cynically, Xie said.

“Everyone at Chapman looks so good, but deep down inside, they’re so afraid,” Xie said.

Discomfort is something that people are conditioned to shy away from, said senior art major Sophia Nielsen.

“That area of friction and discomfort, that’s where change happens,” Nielsen said. “That’s the most important space we can exist in as people.”

For her senior thesis, Nielsen created an installation piece that transformed a dumpster into a statement on environmental waste.

Nielsen said that her perspective of what it means to be human in relation to the world has changed as a result of her work.

“I just see things as different forces of matter interacting,” Nielsen said. “I’ve started to just work in ways to maximize my own efficiency and waste reduction in every single aspect of my life.”

Holper said she hopes to change people’s minds through her art by exposing them to new ways of looking at the world.

“Art is very important in this world,” Holper said. “It’s a process. It’s ever-growing. I’m always making art, and it’s never going to end.”

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