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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kensington Riots Project

“Who gets to be an American?” ask Jebney Lewis and Maria Möller, two Philadelphia artists whose work lays bare the violent nativism and xenophobia present in the history of the city. They will be giving a talk at Falvey Speakers’ Corner on Monday, January 28 at 6:30 PM and will discuss their Kensington Riots Project, a site-specific experiential art project that recalls two violent anti-Irish Catholic clashes in 1844 in which churches (including Old St. Augustine’s Church) and buildings were burned and destroyed with cannons; twenty people were killed; and over a hundred more were wounded. This episode was one of the most serious race riots in the country’s history, and was set off by debates about economic and employment opportunity; fear about religious freedom and religious education; governmental control; and community and national identity.

The piece was informed by the urgency of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street and involved a six-week workshop in which Arab-American teens created protest signs displaying historical, contemporary, and personal messages in both English and Arabic about experiences of race, nationalism, and personal alienation — connecting past to present. The entire process was documented through photography, video, and social media, and the signs and other related pieces were then displayed at a presentation in the Kensington neighborhood where one of the riots took place.

Möller and Lewis have spoken about this piece at Villanova before, and signs from the project were on display in Falvey Library last semester. Falvey Special Collections holds several artifacts such as books and artworks on the riots, and the exhibition’s web site can be accessed here.

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