Steven Smith ‘21
Majors: Computer Science and Pre-Engineering
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jim Brown, Director of the Digital Studies Center and Associate Professor of English
In June 2020, Camden residents in the Cooper-Grant neighborhood contacted Rutgers University–Camden about the frieze on the Cooper Branch Library building, a mosaic that depicts a number of historical figures and titled “America Receiving the Gifts of the Nations.” Community members asked that that university deal with the fact that the frieze, in the words of one person, has “white supremacist themes.” Specifically, it depicts Christopher Columbus among its notable figures bearing “gifts” for America, and features two Native American figures underneath and to either side of a female figure representing “America.” These two Indigenous figures kneel at the feet of figures representing “Equality” and “Opportunity,” and along with “America” herself, nearly all of these powerful figures are depicted as white.
The Digital Studies Center (DiSC) is collaborating with the Institute for The Development Of Education In the Arts (IDEA), the Department of Childhood Studies, the Proof Lab, and the Writing and Design Lab, on a project called “Johnson Park: A Gallery of History Reimagined.” As part of that grant project, we have been creating media projects that engage with and reimagine the harmful imagery on the mosaic. These projects will invite Camden residents as well as Rutgers students, staff, and faculty to remix and remake the mosaic.
My project creates a virtual version of the mosaic, breaking up that virtual version into its different pieces, and inviting creators to rearrange those pieces (much like the mosaic artist did) to create new images and figures. Again, IDEA youth will soon be invited to remix this imagery, using these pieces to make something new.