Published: June 19, 2014

Dr. George RiveraDoes art belong in a combat zone?  Dr. George Rivera of the CU Boulder Art Department believes it does.  With only a portable printer, Rivera collaborated with university students in Boulder and in Bethlehem, Palestine to create an international art exhibit.  He received an ASSETT Development Award last year to purchase the portable photographic printer and photographic paper that were necessary to create the bare bones exhibit.  "[The ASSETT Development Award funding] resulted in an exhibition entitled HOME/LAND, which consisted of 40 art pieces of Image and Text presented in the Visual Arts Department of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts & Culture in Bethlehem, Palestine ..." says Rivera, who collaborated with Professor Johny Andonia at the Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem, Palestine.  The portable printer enabled the exhibit to take place, "without the expensive shipping," that an overseas exhibit would normally require, Rivera explains.  He points out that a photo printer may not normally be easily available in Palestine, and, "Without the equipment, you can't do this ... I think that's what these awards are meant for."

Poster for HOMELAND exhibit. Palestinian and American students answered the question, 'What does Home/Land mean to you?'Rivera took pictures of students at both universities and invited them to respond in eight words or fewer what home, land, or homeland meant to them.  Their responses included:

  • "2 towns 2 axis the center home"
  • Home is where I want to raise a family.
  • Home is where I'm accepted
  • Home where I Feel safe
  • Where there is good food
  • Home Is A Place I'm Looking for

Rivera explains that the process of coupling an explanation with a photograph of someone is an extension of the Conceptual Art Movement that matured in the 1960s and 1970s, in which, "It's the idea that drives something, rather than the image," he says.

Why Palestine?

Through the exhibit, Rivera aimed to illustrate the universality that exists in all people, despite our differences of nationality, ethnicity, and religion.  He says that participating in the exhibit was an, "Opportunity to know others in the world better ... [and] to help students think internationally and globally."  He says the exhibit was intended:

"To remind people that they have something in common with other human beings--to remind them that they are not as isolated as they think they are.  That makes us one ... We get caught up too much in categories.  Underneath all of those categories are human beings like you and me."

Photographs in the HOME/LAND exhibit with explanations of what 'Home,' 'Land,' or 'Homeland means When asked about the decision to exhibit in a combat zone, Rivera responds, "Students have to learn how to deal with change and diversity ... [These are] universal issues no matter where we live that we all have in common."  Rivera says that he believes that art can "transcend" the boundaries and politics of this world that more often divides us: "Art is life, and life is art.  There is not a separation ... I believe we can change the world with our presence."  He quoted the late German philosopher Herbert Marcuse in The Aesthetic Dimension in saying, "'Art cannot change the world, but it can contribute to changing the consciousness and drives the men and women who could change the world.'"

Rivera also explained that the opportunity for students to present at an international venue is exceptional:

"... ASSETT funds enabled students in our Art Department to have international exhibitions and allowed us to print the art of image and text of students from other universities as an exchange between our university and an international venue.  Thank you for the ASSETT Award, as it benefited our art students by obtaining international exhibits for them."

Portable printer, laptop, and camera in tow, Rivera says that the HOME/LAND exhibit is only the beginning of a greater and longer international partnership.  He would like to continue to collaborate with Professor John Andonia at Dar al-Kalima University College in Palestine and exhibit on an annual basis there and on an even bigger scale, renting out advertisement space at bus stations in Bethlehem.  Since the exhibit culminates in eight-by-eleven photographs, "I can leave it behind," says Rivera.

Next, Rivera plans to ask students to answer the question, "What is art?"