Columbia Law School Names First Artist-in-Residence

Harlem-based artist Bayeté Ross Smith hopes to spur students and lawyers to question assumptions
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Photo: Aleph Media

Harlem-based artist Bayeté Ross Smith hopes to spur students and lawyers to question assumptions and reimagine solutions to society’s most pressing challenges. Columbia Law School announced that Harlem-based photographer, artist, and educator Bayeté Ross Smith has been named artist-in-residence for the 2021–2022 academic year.

Columbia Law established this new program to examine and broaden how the institution honors its history and values, while also celebrating its vibrant and diverse community.

While in residence, Ross Smith will engage directly with faculty and students in classes, co-curricular events, and other related programs. He will showcase installations of his work on the Law School campus, where he will maintain a studio space and have access to Columbia’s existing art collection and the Columbia University Libraries archives. Ross Smith plans to use the residency to expand on his “Art of Justice” project, a series of art and media installations and corresponding programs that addresses contemporary social, political, and human rights issues while strategically engaging the legal community.

“I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen as Columbia Law School’s inaugural artist-in-residence,” said Ross Smith. “This opportunity will allow me to advance my work utilizing the storytelling power of the arts to engage law students, legal scholars, and future policymakers in the contemporary and historic social justice issues and human rights issues that must be addressed in order for society to make the necessary progress we need over the course of the next century and beyond.”

Through his work, Ross Smith hopes to help shape the perspectives of law students during the formative years of their professional training.

“We are delighted to welcome Bayeté Ross Smith as our first artist-in-residence,” said Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law. “Bayeté’s art examines many of the social, cultural, and justice-oriented issues that are key elements of the Law School’s mission. He pushes creative boundaries with exceptional creativity and has a passion for challenging bias through education and promoting social justice through artistic expression.”

Ross Smith has chosen to focus his artistic energies on the legal community because of the vital role lawyers play in policymaking and the field of criminal justice.

“My goal is to create work that forces people to question their preexisting beliefs and ask themselves, ‘Why did I think that?’ in relation to any given topic or concept,” Ross Smith said.

A native New Yorker from Manhattan, Ross Smith was chosen as the inaugural artist-in-residence among more than 400 applicants. Entries were reviewed by faculty who lead Columbia Law’s Naming and Symbols Working Group.

Kendall Thomas, Nash Professor of Law and faculty co-chair of the selection committee, believes that Ross Smith’s “Art of Justice” project will offer “a powerful aesthetic toolkit for critical inquiry and reflection about the adverse impact of unconscious bias and distorted historical narratives in our legal system.”

“Ross Smith has a keen sense of how the arts can be used to help lawyers, law students, legal educators, and legal policymakers understand and address the cultural perspectives that shape our professional practice,” said Thomas. “I’m excited about the contributions Ross Smith will make to the Columbia Law learning community, and I look forward to working with him.”

About Bayeté Ross

Smith Ross Smith is a photographer, artist, and education worker who lives in Harlem and works at the intersection of photography, film and video, visual journalism, 3D objects, and new media. He has been recognized with multiple awards, fellowships, and grants for his work, including as a POV and New York Times Embedded Mediamaker, a Presidential Leadership Scholar, a 2021 CatchLight Leadership Fellow, a TED Resident, a Creative Capital awardee, an Art for Justice Fund Fellow, and a BPMPlus grantee.

His interdisciplinary work includes photographs, videos, sculptures, and performances. His work has appeared in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Oakland Museum of California, the Birmingham Museum of Art, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. He has also exhibited internationally with the Goethe-Institut (Ghana), the Fotomuseum (Belgium), the Lianzhou Foto Festival (China), and America House (Ukraine).

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