Student performance art projects publicly express personal experiences

Anna+Nestor+20+stood+chained+to+the+two+columns+outside+Farinon+for+a+student+art+project.+%28Photo+by+Mario+Sanchez+21%29

Anna Nestor ’20 stood chained to the two columns outside Farinon for a student art project. (Photo by Mario Sanchez ’21)

Danielle Kraidin

The haunting figure of a student blindfolded and chained to the pillars in front of Farinon with “[Judges] 16:28” written on her shirt drew a crowd of curious spectators last Friday night. Earlier that day, another student was filling a bag with rocks in a symbolic effort to bear the burden of her fellow students. Both of these seemingly unrelated spectacles were projects by two students from the Lafayette arts department.

Anna Nestor ‘20, the student who chained herself to Farinon, chose to wear the biblical quote to mirror her own experiences with strife and faith.

“What does it feel like to be at the end of your rope, forsaken by everyone, and experiencing weakness?” Nestor said. “By chaining myself between the columns and feeling the physical toll of my position, I enacted his character having to come to terms with vulnerability for the very first time. I…had to rely on my faith in my friends to save me.”

Judges 16:28 references the biblical story of Samson, a man who, through betrayal and deceit, loses his hair and his strength and is captured by the Philistines. Through his faith, however, Samson is able to regain his strength, break from his fetters, and destroy the temple in which he was kept.

Performance art can be very personal, and for Nestor, the biblical character Samson’s struggle had many familiar notes.

“I have an autoimmune disorder called alopecia areata that also causes me to lose my hair. It got so bad I had to shave my head for the beginning of sophomore year,” Nestor said. “By putting myself in the position of Samson, I hoped to gain insight on how to gain strength from one’s values despite dramatic suffering.”

The project of Simone Khalifa ‘20 also addressed the burden of emotional stress. She sat on the steps of Skillman Library and invited students to write a struggle or burden they were experiencing on a small piece of paper, which she then tied to a rock. The rocks were added to a bag that she was carrying, with the intention of carrying the “burden-bag” around for the rest of the week in public spaces on campus.

“I wanted others to know that they don’t have to carry all the weight on their own shoulders,” Khalifa said, “and to also demonstrate how much all the weight of our struggles can have a major impact on us.”

Both Nestor and Khalifa’s displays were part of a project for Materials and Methods, a required course for arts majors taught by art professor Nestor Gil. The pieces were the final project in their unit on performance art, and had only two requirements — to be public and to be well-documented.

They received varied responses, from shock to indifference. However, the majority of students showed interest in learning about the projects.

“One of my favorite reactions was just ‘yikes,’” Nestor said. “Some people had positive reactions to my piece and even told me their own stories. Others tried to get as a far away as possible or just ignored me completely.”

“A lot of people were very curious about what I was doing. I met a handful of skeptics who were not very interested in the project, but lots of people really loved the idea and readily wrote down a struggle,” Khalifa said. “I collected a significant amount of rocks, enough that I feel the weight on my back.”