Sawyer becomes gallery space for social change

On Nov. 8, parts of Sawyer Library were transformed into exhibition spaces. Students from a studio arts class offered this fall, “Social Commentary and Experimental Printmaking,” displayed seven art projects throughout the library. Although Sawyer is normally filled with busy students working and cramming in their assignments, these projects have offered a time to pause and reflect on topics that are socially and politically charged.

Nicole Maloof, visiting assistant professor of art and instructor of the class, talked and worked directly with the Sawyer Library staff, who were open and welcome to the idea of displaying opinionated and socially charged work. When deciding on a place to exhibit their projects, her students were excited to display their works in such a public setting, hoping to create an open dialogue with students and faculty members.

In the exhibition text description, the class wrote, “The purpose of these projects is to raise questions about issues in our present-day society, issues that affect some, many, or all the students, faculty, and staff here at Williams College. The range of topics investigated includes climate change, birth control, dating, sex and even certain aspects of culture perpetuated here on campus. The artists are not looking for consensus in response, but rather hoping to inspire a conversation around such concerns.” While the response has certainly been mixed so far, the exciting fact is that the work has caused some stir in the public spaces, which is part of the goal of the project.

One of the most powerful factors is that some of the pieces are not immediately recognizable as art. Take, for example, the work of Justin Sardo ’18 in the 24-hour room. His piece, titled Your Terms, is a linocut and monotype print that falls onto the colored books in the room. Jessica Chen’s ’18.5 piece, Dealing with Straight Boys, is displayed facetiously in every single female bathroom stall in Sawyer, and allows the viewer to reflect on the linoleum print with digital manipulation while relieving themselves. Kayley McGonagle’s ’18 piece, Please Take One, is more confrontational, and her linoleum prints with hand drawings are digitally printed out on copy paper and free for any passerby to take. One aspect of her piece that cannot be missed is that each print is a representation of a sexual organ — penises and vaginas galore.

Some of the other students in the class decided to go about displaying their pieces in a more traditional way, hanging their artwork on walls. However, even in a conventional space, the social commentary is just as explicit and deliberate. Natasha Baranow’s ’18 piece, Of the New World, brings into discussion earth, nature and topics of global warming that cannot continue to go unnoticed and be unaccounted for. Other pieces, such as Jacqueline Simeone’s ’18, A Functional Relationship, hangs like a monumental banner on the main hallway entrance to Sawyer. Each side of the vinyl print displays and challenges ideas of happiness and work as a function.

Each piece has a personal element tied to it as well as a broader social or political call to action. Dawn Wu’s ’18 piece, Bleeding out/ bleeding despite darkness/ seeds of change, is displayed on a huge digital monitor as a woodblock print manipulated into a GIF. Her piece encounters issues surrounding birth control, which she brings forth unapologetically and beautifully, carving and including images of pills and flowers wilting, growing and spreading their seeds.

One cannot miss these pieces of art in Sawyer. These pieces are not only meant to be observed at a distance, but are also there to broaden the questions the artworks raise and to encourage conversations. Art is art in a gallery space, but art in a non-traditional space like Sawyer library becomes charged with energy and voice. The students in “Social Commentary and Experimental Printmaking” are interested in viewers’ thoughts, and with the advice and help of Maloof, they have set up an email,, for anyone to contribute and add on to these new visual voices in the library.

One piece by Dawn Wu ’18, sitting in the center of Sawyer Library’s third floor, tackles issues surrounding birth control. Angela Tang/Contributing Photographer