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Emerson debuts new gallery, poignant show

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

On October 21, 2016, Emerson College opened the doors to its first publicly accessible art space, the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Gallery. Located on Avery Street near the Paramount Theatre, the gallery is the only art gallery in the area bounded by Boston Common, Downtown Crossing and the theater district. It offers four to six exhibitions a year and is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2-7 p.m. while school is in session.

On the web

For more information on the Emerson Urban Arts: Media Gallery, visit:

The new space allows Joseph Ketner, Emerson’s curator and Henry and Lois Foster Chair of Contemporary Art, to exhibit much larger artworks than before. Ketner describes the venue’s two-story entrance as a perfect spot for the large-scale media artists he’s been courting. “Because of the physical nature of the space, we’re able to produce much more robust productions,” he says. “The premise of the gallery is to emphasize performance and new media in the contemporary art spectrum.”

Student art

Currently the gallery is exhibiting the student-curated show, “NO ONE will tell me who I am.” In Ketner’s contemporary art class, the students visit over 100 artists in graduate studios throughout the city. They select the most enigmatic of these to be in the show, curate the installation and put together the editorial materials for it. “NO ONE” features 11 artists and centers on the theme of “cultural self.” Ketner says, “A lot of these folks are trying to come to terms with a multi-ethnic identity.”

Needa Mulla, an artist working in a Tufts University master’s program, came to the United States because she was forbidden from creating cut metal work in Saudi Arabia. She uses her time in the welding shop not only to create artwork but also to prove that women are just as capable of physical work as men. She draws inspiration from her Islamic historical heritage to make textures and patterns that differentiate the layers of metal in her installations. In this way she’s both embracing her background and pushing back against its constraints.

Will Van Beckum, also a Tufts student, creates images by layering tourist photographs downloaded from a geotagged location on Instagram. Once layered, he blends them together so that they create one filtered image out of many. The result is a narrow, outsider view of a vast, natural space. Not only does this comment on the use of social media to show only the bright and good in our lives, it shows that the outsider view is never the full picture. This particularly speaks to the United States in this time of increased xenophobia.

“NO ONE” will resume walk-in hours on January 18, when Emerson reopens from winter break. Ketner hopes that the street-accessible new gallery will bring this powerful show to many more eyes than the on-campus art spaces. He says, “All of these people came from different places on the planet, and how they reconcile where they came from and where are now is the really gripping part of the show.”