Benjamin Juarez, dean of Boston University’s College of Fine Arts, released a statement Wednesday in response to the backlash resulting from graphic design Professor Yael Ort-Dinoor’s “public awareness project.”
The assignment, administered Oct. 1 to Ort-Dinoor’s AR 225 Sophomore Graphic Design Studio class, asked students to create a design inspired by their own stance on a global awareness issue, for which many chose the current democracy protests in Hong Kong. The project has been assigned for years to encourage social awareness, Juarez said in a statement published on CFA’s Facebook page.
“The project, which Professor Yael Ort-Dinoor has assigned for years, asks students to take a current issue and create a visual response to it,” he said. “The assignment is not meant to offend, but rather to create a design challenge. The subsequent discussion illuminates a few key points about art’s role in society and its place in a University.”
Juarez explained that while the artwork does not reflect the opinion of CFA or BU, it “is an expression of these young artists.”
“Art is neither created nor experienced in isolation,” he said. “Art is informed by the world we are living in. It can be a powerful catalyst in political, cultural and social discourse. To support these young artists, we must continue to foster a safe environment in which students can participate in academic exercises that stretch their abilities.”
Many in Hong Kong are protesting after the government revoked its previous promise of the region’s first free election for Chief Executive since gaining independence from Britain in 1997. The position will instead be filled through a Beijing-based committee. The massive demonstrations following the announcement have made global headlines.
The graphics were spread on Chinese social media by a BU student, prompting Juarez’s response.
Zichun Zhou, a sophomore in CFA in ARR 225, lives only 20 minutes from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, and said three of her friends in the class are also from China.
“We are used to doing posters for fundraising events or fun events. We have never done posters responding to political events, especially when she [Ort-Dinoor] said we needed to make an opinion,” she said. “I don’t support this type of thing [the protests] because it’s causing a lot of social problems in Hong Kong right now. I am not against this protest for democracy, for a promise that China’s government didn’t keep.”
However, Zhou supports Ort-Dinoor’s assignment, she said, because it emphasized that students should speak up about their opinions and convey visually what they might not feel comfortable saying out loud.
“She explained that she wanted us to visually respond to what happened around us. She said this was not to offend anyone, and she never meant to raise an argument between Chinese students or students from Hong Kong or anywhere else,” she said. “I think all of us are on the same page. We understand why she assigned this project. When you see something, you say something. You don’t have to be quiet.”
This article was originally published in The Daily Free Press.