On Saturday, June 19, FIT’s Black Student Union (BSU) commemorated Juneteenth by hosting an intimate outdoor gathering of artists and photographers on FIT’s campus to begin the process of painting a mural titled Love and Resilience: A Depiction of the Black Experience and Growth. Participants included FIT students and alumni as well as New York City–based artists and photographers. This special initiative was launched by the BSU in partnership with President Joyce F. Brown and the School of Art and Design. For the first time, Juneteenth was observed as a federal holiday after President Biden signed it into legislation on June 17.
The BSU, under new student leadership, viewed the Juneteenth mural as an opportunity to acknowledge how far the country has come since George Floyd’s murder, the civil unrest that followed, and a pandemic that forced the nation to address social inequities. This year called for healing by making space for open dialogue about what it means to be Black in America, and the BSU wanted to demonstrate that there is more work to be done.
The curators and organizers of the exhibition were Natasha Bwalya, BSU president and Communications Design ’22; Khyla D’Shaye, BSU vice president and Advertising and Marketing Communications ’22; Rukaiah El, BSU director of digital marketing and public relations and Fine Arts ’22; and Joi Berry, outgoing BSU president, Art History and Museum Professions ‘23.
“During this past semester, the BSU had a lot of discussions within our group, asking ourselves, ‘How do we move forward?’” said Bwalya, who completed the academic year remotely from her native country, Zambia, located in south central Africa. “This initiative reflects where Black people are today and captures what love for the Black community looks like—not just self-love, but also love in terms of healing and resiliency. So, we agreed on the theme of Love and Resilience: A Depiction of the Black Experience.”
President Brown supports the notion of using artistic expression to bring people together. “Juneteenth is an occasion for both reflection and celebration, and so when the Black Student Union chose to commemorate Juneteenth with art, I was pleased and happy to support their efforts,” she said. “Art, after all, inspires, it provokes, it opens minds, and connects us to one another.”
Austin Thomas, exhibitions manager for the School of Art and Design, and Lobsang Tsewang, exhibitions coordinator, provided support for the BSU from logistics and planning to day-of setup and artistic guidance.
The BSU leadership is in conversation with Dr. Brown and the School of Art and Design to ensure that FIT will continue to commemorate Juneteenth as an annual tradition, with the mission to uplift and support the entire FIT community on behalf of its BIPOC population.