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“Every Word Matters:” Brieva Finds Big Ideas in Small Spaces

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Since the beginning of fall term, a series of bright poster art has stood out on the walls of 4th Libe. This exhibit of work by Spanish cartoonist and graphic artist Miguel Brieva marks a collaboration between The Gould Library’s Art in the Library Program and the Spanish department.

Spanish professor Palmar Alvarez-Blanco, a friend and colleague of Brieva, decided to arrange this exhibit so that the artist could interact with both her Spanish class and the broader Carleton community.

Alvarez-Blanco worked alongside Laurel Bradley of the Perlman Teaching Museum, Margaret Pezalla-Granlund of the library, and Spanish Major and Translator Anthony Harb ’15 to bring Brieva to campus this week.

Brieva and Oscar Clemente, a documentary filmmaker who collaborated with Brieva on his newest film, came to campus this week to work with students in Contemporary Fiction and the Market, an upper-level Spanish class.

Clemente visited last week to screen his documentary “Keep on Rolling: The Dream of the Automobile” and explore its themes with the class.

He said, “[The car] is an object with a strong symbolic meaning in our culture, so I use the car as a metaphor for mass consumerism.” The film is composed of archived footage of an imagined future from the 50s and animation of a similar style by Brieva, creating juxtaposition that makes even the issue of today even more pressing.

In his workshop, Clemente talked about the place of the artist as well as “art and documentaries…and their role and responsibility in [discussing cultural criticisms] and presenting information,” said Harb, who is in the class.

Senior Katherine Strong noted Clemente’s focus on “the intolerable image, and art as a way to reach out to an audience. We were able to talk to someone who was actually going through that process.”

This week, Brieva has continued to discuss the pursuit of a presentation of the intolerable image—an image that brings attention to difficult problems in our society—that can galvanize an audience.

“My work deals with contradictions in our society [and] in my late work, I try to build new ways of thinking rather than criticizing…to construct rather than deconstruct, which is easier.” Through culturally inviting forms like comics and art, Brieva presents hard-hitting ideas with which he seeks to inspire critical change.

Though he typically is not a teacher, Brieva is working with students in his workshop to “extract” the creative capacity that he believes we all have but that is often suppressed through the education system.

“The goal of the workshop is not to get a [visually] good work, but to explore ideas and make the students aware of their possibilities…which are not only pleasant to practice but also very important for thinking and understanding ourselves and how things work.”

In his workshop, Miguel told the students: “Pretend like you’re a rock on this campus, looking out. What would you see? What are people doing? How do you explain them?”

With this prompt to explore the world separate from one’s own perspective, students have begun to produce their own artistic visual-text projects that highlight issues in our society ranging from possible misuse of technology and the education system to silencing of oppressed people and abortion clinics.

For the students in the class, the experience has been shaping. Strong also took the class two years ago when Brieva last visited and reveled in both experiences: “He’s just amazing. He has such great ideas…and helps you think really outside of your preconceptions and more deeply.”

“For Brieva, every word matters, and he helps us formulate what we’re trying to say,” said junior Brandon McGarrity.

While only students in Alvarez-Blanco’s class have spent the past few days in the Weitz’s IdeaLab with Brieva, the exhibit remains a visible and important focal point of the library and represents much of Brieva’s artistic experience and social goals.

The display ranges from magazine covers and posters to comic sequences, each thoughtfully translated by Harb and carefully laid out so that the images remain the focus and the words are merely the means through which they are understood.

Because of the centrality of the location in the Libe, the exhibit can reach Carleton’s community in important, thought- provoking ways. Harb said, “It’s really easy because it’s a comic to dismiss its value, but if you read the text and listen to it, it’s so relevant to all of us. I think that it’s true that art doesn’t necessarily provoke social change…so just think about the art and how we can make change.”

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