Faced with an unexpected opening this spring, Becky Pflueger, gallery director at Collège Saint-Benoît and Université Saint-Jean, saw the opportunity to spark a needed conversation.
Typically, the annual main thesis exhibition filled both the Benedict and Dorothy Gorecki Gallery at CSB’s Benedicta Arts Center and the Alice R. Rogers and Target Galleries at SJU.
But with only 12 seniors graduating this year, that show might be limited to SJU this time around.
This gave Pflueger the chance to book a visually powerful exhibit she saw at the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery in Minneapolis.
For George: portraits of the movement is a collection of black and white portraits by Minneapolis photographer John Steitz, as well as interviews he conducted with those he photographed.
As of May 2020, Steitz was living in the Powderhorn neighborhood, a few blocks from the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue where George Floyd was killed in police custody after Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin – who was convicted of murder and manslaughter for his role in the incident – pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.
Floyd’s death has sparked nationwide condemnation and protests – particularly in Minneapolis which has seen not just protests, but civil unrest. Steitz, however, continued to visit the intersection — now known as George Floyd Square — in the months that followed, taking time to listen to those who had gathered there to mourn and protest.
The result is an exhibition that highlights the individual stories of those who have been moved enough to get involved in building community and demanding change.
“It really opens up the conversation about what the protests actually looked like and who the people were going to,” Pflueger said. “It gives a human face to these individuals and their choices. Why were they there? It wasn’t just about violence. It was about building community and making a difference.
In the months since Floyd’s death, the boards of student senates CSB and SJU issued a call to action — one Pflueger said she tried to accommodate his booking choices.
“We have already started work on an exhibition of Aboriginal artists in Saint John’s next fall,” she said. “It will start in August. Part of the reason behind this show is that one of the big things the Senate asked for was to have conversations about diversity outside of the classroom.
“I tried to think about that when booking this show as well. We’ve had a lot of visually great artwork in the galleries this season, but I wanted to do something that would spark more conversation.
The exhibit currently on display at the CSB until May 9 features 50 images by Steitz, which were drawn from a collection of approximately 120 to 150 in all. The portraits rub shoulders with quotes and information about the people photographed.
Steitz said he considered himself more of a journalist than an artist when putting together the collection.
“For me, it really started as a general push,” he said. “I’ve never organized my work into a cohesive project like this. It grew out of a general disappointment with the way I thought the media was covering what was happening in my neighborhood.
“The national media tends to zoom out, and when they do, they miss the human elements. But it was one of the most incredible things I’ve witnessed – all these individuals with their own incredible stories getting involved.
“I guess what I’m hoping for is that people hear the words that these people had to say. I don’t want it to be interpreted through my own point of view or anything like that. It takes a lot of people to create a movement – people with different motivations and different backgrounds. I want people to see them and hear their stories.