Throughout history, there has been a tendency to exclude and forget certain groups of people.
This influenced the Wisconsin Union Art Committee to curate the Unidentified exhibit, located in Union South in Gallery 1308.
The exhibit examines Wisconsin’s Digital Collections, history of scientific contributions and the people who made them. The archive tends to identify a disproportionate number of male discoverers and scientists yet fails to give credit to most of the women, especially those belonging to minority groups, Lily Miller, development assistant director of the WUD Art Committee, said
“We noticed Mr. so and so and colleague – unidentified. If she’s his colleague, why didn’t the photographer take the time to jot her name on the back of the photograph? Even if it was just a single feminine identity, she was unidentified,” Miller said.
WUD Art Committee allows students to replicate gallery owners, Miller said. In this case, the committee had the power to select which images were presented and the entire scope of the exhibition. WUD Art works closely with artists one-on-one, fostering a welcoming community. The students have the opportunity to participate in multiple aspects of the gallery opening process, including writing the labels, positioning the photos, choosing the lighting and determining the overall layout.
Miller, along with others involved in WUD Art, collaborated with UW archives and gathered photos across all UW schools in order to curate the exhibit.
It was necessary to extend their research to various areas of Wisconsin because it’s a wider issue that’s pertinent on every campus, according to Miller.
The Unidentified exhibit focuses on all of the women who have been forgotten and under-credited in the historical archives. The Art Committee analyzed the nature of archiving to determine who records information, how they record it and which people are considered important enough to be documented.
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“Each and every one of the women photographed contributed something significant. In comparison to their colleagues, they weren’t given credit,” Miller said.
Specific photos were chosen for the gallery to reflect the way some people were deemed more worthy of being remembered and documented than others. Miller had a difficult time choosing the most prominent and powerful photos because she believes the issue is so pervasive.
The purpose of the gallery was to recognize the minority groups that aren’t typically given the admiration they deserve throughout history. It’s important to highlight the significant people who may have been concealed and unobtrusive.
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“This exhibition is endemic of a bigger issue, just general erasure of marginalized identities, whether it be people of color, which really are underrepresented even more so than women in the archives,” Miller said. “But just in daily life, trying to recognize what’s being erased, or challenge what you’re predominantly being fed because there’s more to it; it’s not just one identity, it’s not just one group.”
Miller said it’s a shame they’re not being given their due credit and their due process. The problem falls on the culture that doesn’t give credit or want to acknowledge the efforts.
To make sure this issue doesn’t continue moving forward, Miller encouraged recordkeepers and historians to capture as much of the truth as possible. Miller emphasized the importance of incorporating and accepting multiple perspectives and opinions to ensure every aspect of historical records is intersectional.
“A big challenge is most likely a lot of these photographers were white men, so maybe they just culturally weren’t raised with the lens to even pay any mind to other identities,” Miller said.
While it’s essential for those who dedicate their lives to recording history to reveal the full story, each and every citizen also plays a role, Miller said.
The Wisconsin Union Art Committee has received positive feedback from those who have already visited the gallery. Most of the guests have been people who coincidentally passed by the exhibit, but Miller said many are left with a different vision and different perspective.
There is a guest book in the gallery where visitors are encouraged to write down their thoughts and comments about the exhibit, which will be open until Nov. 16 at 10 p.m.
“Being a voice and a champion to prevent yourself from being erased, but also to prevent others from being erased,” Miller said. “I think everyone is tasked with that. Everyone’s voice is pertinent in the discussion.”