Student Public Scholarship
In spring 2013, two ENGL 1102 composition courses dedicated their semester to creating a community-based art project in the hopes of inviting both their university colleagues and the general public to engage the concept of Southern identity formation. They titled their project the “New South Inside Out Project” (NSIOP), as their goal was to interrogate and deconstruct the stereotypes of Southern identities in order to privilege the inclusive diversity that they saw to be more representative in the city of Atlanta and the campus of GSU. A central component of their project was to seek out and thoughtfully engage the public to develop an understanding of what it means to be a Southerner. To this end, the ENGL 1102 students interviewed and took original portraits of subjects who considered themselves to be a Southerner.
The NSIOP was inspired by a world-wide community-based art project headed by Parisian street artist JR, who won the prestigious 2011 TED Prize with his wish to “turn the world inside out” through art. JR travels the world taking portraits of subjects who are members of socially and politically unstable communities; he then makes posters of these portraits and pastes them on walls for the community to see and contemplate. The idea is that these anonymous portraits of community members have a unique potential to upset social stereotypes and bridge values and differences between individuals, fostering community without imposing a biased set of ethics. The two ENGL 1102 courses adopted JR’s project with the specific lens of Southern identity and what it means to be part of the so-called “New South.”
The NSIOP was a success, being installed on the outside brick wall of one of the university’s main buildings, facing a busy downtown intersection. While the learning curve was certainly steep, the experience of formulating and cultivating this project in the composition classroom impacted all of the participants’ pedagogical outlooks as they continue to develop themselves as scholars and engaged citizens at GSU. As one student wrote on the last day of class, “Suddenly, I find myself in the role of the scholar, not reflecting on the work of someone else, but my own.” It is his articulation, perhaps, that indicates the true internal accomplishment of the project–and hopefully reflects the public community’s success as well.
Our mission statement: As a region that is often primarily regarded in terms of racial history, the South is a concept heavily burdened with the social horrors of the past, reduced to the binary of oppressors and oppressed. Yet from our ancestors, a New South has emerged. Through the original portraits we have taken of individuals who consider themselves Southerners, we offer a visual context to promote a community-oriented, conscious consideration of both the traditional tenants and unexpected authenticities of the South. In an urban center of tremendous diversities, we seize this opportunity to turn the lingering barriers of stagnant segregation inside out and collaboratively cultivate and celebrate a fuller understanding of the South’s diversity.
Link to website: www.newsouthinsideout.gsu.edu