Artifacts presents prejudicial past

Director of Photography Greg Rust’s exhibit combines historic examples of discriminatory images with photos of activists who fought against them

It’s no secret that historic biases can be carried into modern societies, but the former meets the latter in Greg Rust’s exhibit Artifacts: Focus on Race. According to Rust, the art installation consists of an accumulation of images and artifacts from his own collection that serve to inspire others to speak out on discrimination.

“As an artist working in a Jesuit institution of higher learning, I felt compelled to address the topic of race in our increasingly polarized society,” he writes in his artist statement.

Artifacts juxtaposes historic artifacts reflecting prejudicial views, such as old sports logos, with photographs of activists who fought against these images. The mingling of the historic and the modern intends to demonstrate the evolution of cultural perceptions of race and generate discussion about the stereotypes that might have contributed to those perceptions.

For more than 30 years, Rust has served as Xavier’s director of photography. His career as a photographer began his junior year of college after he spent four months traveling with members of the American Indian Movement. His experiences transformed his worldview and inspired him to intertwine his anthropological studies with his newfound talent.

Now, with this exhibit combining images and testimonies of minorities with the harmful stereotypes that negatively affect their livelihood, he hopes to educate those viewing his pieces and inspire discussions revolving around the bias that can accompany race.

“The whole reason that (the exhibit) is here is not to glorify,” Rust said, “but to let people be aware, look at things and question them.”

Artifacts consists of Nazi memorabilia, sports attire containing racial stereotypes and advertisements depicting individuals in a prejudicial light. Accompanying these pieces are historic and modern photographs of activists who spoke out against intolerance and fought to eliminate racial bias.

A subset of the installation, titled “The Mirror of Race,” is an interactive exhibit in which viewers are encouraged to examine historic images of individuals, come to conclusions about their backgrounds and afterward learn the truth of their stories, which are likely to differentiate from initial assumptions. Rust finds the acknowledgement of America’s shortcomings crucial to positive change.

“Avoiding issues and not speaking out goes against what we at Xavier have been taught about being men and women for others,” Rust said. 

Rust said he strives to live the Jesuit mission not only through his art but also through his activism with the Native American community. For example, he, along with friends within the Cheyenne Nation, played an important role in helping to eliminate the Chief Wahoo logo once used by the Cleveland Indians. Citing this example and the time and patience it required, Rust emphasized the need for persistence when dealing with issues surrounding prejudice and discrimination. 

“You’ve got to keep that pressure up. You’ve got to keep letting people know why things are offensive,” he said. 

While he has seen progress in the way issues affecting the Native American community are being addressed, he believes that there is still a way to go.

“Healthcare, unemployment, housing, jobs and schools on the reservations and in Indian country are all huge problems,” Rust said.

However, he added that he believes youth have the power to influence the quality of life in America and that they must make their voices known.

“When someone says something off-color, don’t let them get away with it,” Rust said. “That’s what (Artifacts) is about. It’s about speaking up.”

Artifacts: Focus on Race can be viewed Monday through Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. in the art gallery in the A.B. Cohen Center until Feb. 22.

By: Alana Harvey | Staff Writer