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Exhibitions and Events

Pop-up exhibition at U-M tackles controversial historical moments, looks to future

By Safiya Merchant

The Remembering Students Missing After Proposal 2 exhibit on the Diag. Courtesy of Michigan Photography.

An upcoming pop-up art exhibition on campus will explore challenges throughout the University of Michigan’s history and serve as a resource to guide U-M through its third century.

The two flags in Kresge Park—one signifying U-M, the other symbolizing the country of Brazil. Courtesy of Michigan Photography.

“Stumbling Blocks” will consist of seven large, provocative art installations that will tackle important challenges and ethical questions that U-M has faced during the last two centuries, from the effects of Proposal 2 on the enrollment of students of color to the ethics of biomedical research.

The exhibition is associated with the President’s Bicentennial Colloquium on the Future University Community. It will be spread out across the Ann Arbor campus, and run April 3-8. Each exhibit will include an interpretative sign with additional information.

The installations and their locations are:

Remembering Students Missing After Proposal 2 reflects on the future of student diversity. Nine hundred fifty empty maize-and-blue chairs on the Diag and Ingalls Mall draw attention to the numbers of African-American, Latino and Native American students who were not admitted to the university as a result of Proposal 2, which banned public universities in Michigan from using affirmative action in admissions. (Diag and Ingalls Mall)

Equity for Women and Gender on Campus draws attention to how gender inequality can undermine the quality of campus life. A ticker tape sign will display excerpts from early regulations of the building’s use by women. For example, when the Michigan Union opened in 1919, women were only permitted to enter the building through the north entrance and if accompanied by a man. (Michigan Union)

New Approaches to the Ethics of Biomedical Research posits international research as developed through scientific and ethical partnership. Two flags will be installed at the same height—one signifying U-M, the other symbolizing the country of Brazil—to illustrate the long-standing ties Michigan has to research fields across the world. In the 1960s, U-M researchers who worked in Brazil were linked to a devastating measles outbreak among the Yanomami people. The most serious of these accusations have been debunked; the experience remains a touchstone for thinking about the ethical obligations of biomedical research. (Kresge Park)

The Energy Institute building wrapped in depictions of the atom and planet Earth. Courtesy of Michigan Photography.

Remaking Nuclear Research opens up reflections about how the future of nuclear research is linked to the well-being of a global community. The Energy Institute will be wrapped in depictions of the atom and planet Earth to pose questions about the future challenges around the use of nuclear technology. The institute builds on the legacy of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, which was created in 1948 to conduct research that supports the peaceful use of atomic energy. The project also served as a memorial for U-M community members who gave their lives during World War II. (Energy Institute)

Student Protest points out how students will shape the future university. Historical images of student protests at U-M will be projected at this location to invite reflection on how these forces have shaped the university, from the 1930s until today. (Angell Hall)

The Fleming Administration Building is renamed as the “The 33,616 Staff Building”. Courtesy of Michigan Photography.

Native Americans: Michigan’s Foundation suggests how U-M’s ties to Native American communities are at the core of the university’s mission. A large-scale reproduction of the existing plaque on Ingalls Mall recalls how three Native American tribes granted land for U-M through the 1817 Treaty of Fort Meigs. That land was later sold and the funds provided a significant portion of U-M’s endowment when it moved to Ann Arbor in 1837. (Ingalls Mall)

Quantifying the Role of Staff encourages new appreciation for the roles that staff will play in the third century. The Fleming Administration Building will be renamed as the “The 33,616 Staff Building” for the duration of the exhibition, highlighting the talent, support and contributions of staff over the last two centuries. (Fleming Building)

Presidential Bicentennial Professor Martha Jones, who spearheaded the Stumbling Blocks exhibition, says the project developed as a way for the university to use difficult moments in its history to promote better thinking about the third century, as well as to bring the bicentennial out of the classroom and into the spaces of community members’ everyday lives.

Jones says the project also serves as U-M’s contribution to a national debate occurring on college campuses centering on how the histories of universities are forgotten, remembered, memorialized and erased. She says she was interested in using the installations to make “bigger than life some of the muted or silent dimensions of history.”

A campus map marking the Stumbling Blocks installation locations.

“Stumbling Blocks is not an exhaustive look at our difficult past, but it does suggest how we can use challenging chapters from our history to better face challenges on our horizon,” said Jones, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies. “I want people to learn about difficult moments in our history that they may not already be aware of, and I’d like people to take what they learn about the past to ask good questions about the future.”

Gary Krenz, executive director of the U-M Bicentennial Office, says part of the mission of the bicentennial is to engage in reflection and scholarly analysis to better understand the university’s past, partly as a way of thinking about how to enter its third century.

“It’s about celebration but it’s also about deliberation and reflection,” he said. “I think that having these large installations, which are going to be very arresting, is a great way to generate some reflection and discussion.”

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