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Perspective: Sometimes what's left unsaid is the real story

Posted on April 13, 2020 at 2:00 PM by Natalie Beauchaine

One of the many reasons I love museums is the sense of connection one can find within them. Connections can be made with artists and other patrons, but also to the art itself. A few months ago, I was lucky enough to join an English 150 tour where I was introduced to a work of art in Parks Library that I connected with, helping me to further understand the career path I have chosen. Art has the ability to push us to a greater understanding of our own lives in the most unexpected of ways.    

The work of art, April 12, 1963, is an embossed paper framed like a painting and was created by Bethany Collins (American, b. 1984). From far away, it appears to be a blank sheet of white paper placed in a glass frame. Upon closer investigation, the viewer finds that the blank sheet is a reproduction of the front page of The Birmingham News (Birmingham, AL) from April 12, 1963, the words clearly embossed on the white paper. Bethany Collins chose this specific newspaper and date to make a statement about who gets to write and document history. A few days before the paper was published, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march and sit-in in the Birmingham area, which the newspaper failed to report. By leaving out specific stories like the highly charged march, history becomes incomplete and dull, like a blank sheet of paper.

As I stared at this work of art, I began to understand what it meant to me personally. As a student majoring in advertising in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I am constantly studying communication and storytelling. April 12, 1963 is part of a series by Collins called “The Problem We All Live With,” a site-specific work that was originally commissioned by the Birmingham Museum of Art. The series of twelve blind embossed prints highlights the damage that occurs when stories and events are purposefully left out of history and the role journalism and the media played during the Civil Rights Movement. The media was changing the narrative of the times, leaving out important stories and essential pieces of history. Sometimes what’s left unsaid is the real story.

As someone entering into the realm of mass media, journalism and communication, the understanding I gained from Collins’ work will serve as a reminder of the responsibility I have to make sure stories are told, and that many diverse voices are heard. 

Museums offer an excellent opportunity for the discovery of untold stories. What I once thought to be only a blank sheet of paper turned out to be so much more. 

~ Natalie Beauchaine, University Museums intern & senior advertising major

April 12, 1963 (2016) by Bethany Collins. Located in Parks Library. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2019.10

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