The Transformative Power of Art

The Transformative Power of Art

An image from ParaAllegories (2013–15), Assistant Professor Adela Goldbard’s immersive installation in Mexico City reflecting on drug trafficking and violence in her home country.

Mexican multimedia artist Adela Goldbard makes work that speaks to the violence and corruption that plague her country—as well as the way historic events are manipulated by politicians and the media to influence the public’s collective memory. Collaborating with a team of sculptors, photographers and videographers, she builds symbolic, life-size effigies and then destroys them in public performances she refers to as “staged protests.”

“I’m very interested in the politics of memory and what’s happening in Mexico,” says Goldbard, who is teaching in Experimental and Foundation Studies (EFS) this year. “I begin with archival and ethnographic research on topics like the Mexican-American border, immigration, social movements … and reflect on how the media surrounding certain events transforms them into spectacle.”

Goldbard is at RISD on an AICAD Post-Graduate Teaching Fellowship, a one-year appointment aimed at increasing racial and ethnic diversity among faculty at all 42 institutional members of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design. In bringing her ideas and commitment to a creative community that values equity and inclusion, she’s sharing with first-year students her belief “in the political power of art to generate critical thinking and social transformation.”

“It’s not about teaching technical skills, but getting students to think about the socio-political issues behind their designs.”

Goldbard takes full advantage of the EFS division’s curricular flexibility to develop assignments for students in her Design studios that relate to her own artistic process and focus on “content and context.” She designed her syllabus with an emphasis on contemporary Latin American art in an effort to broaden the canon for new students.

Excerpt from Enter the Dragon (2013), a piece about Chinese-Mexican methamphetamine lord Zhenli Ye Gon.

“I think it’s very interesting how the EFS program is organized,” Goldbard says. “It’s not about teaching technical skills, but rather getting students to think about the socio-political issues behind their designs. We’re experimenting but at the same time trying to understand concepts like scale, color, representation and composition through making.”

In a recent assignment focused on representation, Goldbard asked students to collect and photograph trash. “I’m teaching them to analyze the materiality and origination of objects and the labor behind the making of objects,” she says, “but at the same time they’re reflecting on the idea of trash and also creating things from trash.”


A Simple Machine (2016) at New Capital in Chicago commented on US detention centers for undocumented migrants.









Goldbard says she’s impressed by RISD students’ ability to make work that reflects on the world around them. With years of teaching experience, she has seen a lot of student work that focuses on “something I call Me and My Pain,” she quips—which is notably absent from her experience in EFS. “I encourage students to start from their own experience,” she clarifies, “but it doesn’t have to be just talking about yourself.”

“In the classroom, you always talk about the work of iconic artists, but when you filter things through your own experience, students see that real people are actually making art—that it’s something they can do, too.”

Another distinction that strikes Goldbard as she gets to know RISD is the huge number of faculty members who are also practicing artists and working scholars. “They have so much first-hand knowledge about making,” she explains, “and that flows to students in a very organic way. In the classroom, you always talk about the work of iconic artists, but when you filter things through your own experience, students see that real people are actually making art—that it’s something they can do, too.”

Acknowledging that teaching is “an intense learning experience,” Goldbard says that when she’s planning a classroom discussion, for instance, she re-reads things with a fresh perspective and finds new angles to pursue in her own projects. “Being an artist and a professor is the perfect mix for me,” she notes.

During Wintersession, Goldbard will travel to Mexico to work on two installations—one outside of Mexico City and one in Acapulco. When she returns to Providence for spring semester, she’s looking forward to seeing how the studio environment changes once EFS students have half a year of art school experience under their belts.

“People say the second semester is completely different from the first,” she says. “I hope students will be more critical about my class itself—that they will question what it is I’m asking them to do. And that’s the idea: for them to question. That’s what I expect.”

Simone Solondz / portrait photo by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

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