Western Wyoming Community College is one of four Wyoming locations that will host the traveling art exhibit “The Bridge,” a groundbreaking interfaith exhibition featuring the work of 47 premier Christian, Muslim and Jewish artists from 15 countries, this month. The exhibition’s opening program and reception will be held Thursday, Sept. 8, at 6 p.m. in the Atrium and Natural History Museum at Western’s Rock Springs campus, and is free and open to the public. The exhibition runs through Sept. 30.
“The Bridge” is organized and presented by CARAVAN, an East-West peacebuilding art non-profit, and it has appeared in Cairo, London, New York, Chicago, and other major cities. The Sept. 8 opening program at Western will feature several special guests, including Rev. Paul Gordon-Chandler, president of CARAVAN and originator of “The Bridge” concept, and co-curators and noted artists Reda Abdel Rahman, Ph.D., and Lilianne Milgrom, who is also a participating artist in “The Bridge.”
“It’s not just an art show. The idea is for the exhibit to allow for discussion, programming and entertainment around the whole concept of promoting diversity and bridging our gaps,” said Sweetwater BOCES Director Bernadine Craft, Ph.D., who was instrumental in bringing “The Bridge” to Southwest Wyoming. “We’ve got a little something for everybody.
“Really, everybody is being represented,” she explained. “And that’s what we’re hoping to achieve here. We’re trying to bring all of these ethnicities, cultures, and religions together with the idea that, when all is said and done, we’re all still human beings. We don’t have to accept or embrace the viewpoints of another, but we do need to respect them.”
Craft serves on the Board of Directors for the Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, which has provided significant funding for bringing “The Bridge” to the state. Sweetwater BOCES, the Wyoming Humanities Council, and the Broadway Theater are also sponsors for the program at Western.
Additional Wyoming venues for “The Bridge” include the University of Wyoming’s Buchanan Center for Performing Arts, the Lander Arts Center, and Northwest College in Powell. The original artworks will be on exhibit at UW, while the concurrent exhibits at Western and elsewhere will feature high-quality prints. Those prints may be purchased once the exhibit at Western has concluded. Wyoming is the exhibition’s only rural stop.
“The Bridge” is an unparalleled gathering of Arab, Jewish and Persian artists focusing on what they hold in common through their cultures and creeds: Christian, Muslim and Jewish. It opened in Paris in 2015. The exhibition is meant to serve as a common starting point from which to see the development of a world that inherently respects and honors cultural and religious diversity.
Instructor of Psychology Marissa Vishnu-Mack is the lead organizer of this month’s activities related to “The Bridge.”
“I have experienced nothing but positivity about this. I have not heard anything negative,” she said. “People are so thrilled and so excited for our campus to be able to host something of this magnitude. I would be inclined to say that it’s probably the biggest intercultural exhibition that we have ever had here. I hope that maybe people who initially are hesitant will come down and take a look.”
“The Bridge” serves as a catalyst for other interreligious and intercultural programs that will be held in each host Wyoming community. In Rock Springs, those events include two film screenings with guest speakers at the Broadway Theater, and a concert in the Atrium on the Rock Springs campus. All are free and open to the public.
On Friday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m., there will be a “Friday on Film” screening of the documentary “Blue Like Me,” which looks at the life and art of India-born Jewish painter Siona Benjamin. Benjamin’s work blends modern and ancient styles with traditional and pop-culture images from around the planet. The artist will attend the screening and deliver an address following the film. The screening will include a reception and an opportunity to speak with the artist.
On Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m., the Broadway Theater will host a screening of the documentary film “Frame by Frame,” which follows four Afghan photojournalists as they navigate an emerging and dangerous media landscape, simultaneously reframing Afghanistan for the world and for themselves. Through intimate interviews, powerful photojournalism, and never-before-seen archival footage that was shot in secret during the Taliban regime, the film connects audiences with four humans in pursuit of the truth.
That evening’s guest speaker will be Afghan native Baktash Ahadi, who served as translator and associate producer on the film, and whose family received political asylum in the United States when he was a child following their flight from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1984. Ahadi will also speak to political science students in a Western class about international terrorism earlier in the day, and to Dr. Craft’s Introduction to Counseling students on Wednesday, Sept. 28. The evening screening will include a reception and an opportunity to speak with the filmmaker.
“The Bridge” exhibition at Western will formally conclude on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m., with a free reception and a concert performance, “Sufi Songs of Love,” by Amir Vahab and Ensemble, which performs both the mystical music of the Sufis and the folkloric music of different regions of Iran and Turkey.
The ensemble’s name means “Messenger Angel,” and it features founder Vahab, one of New York’s most celebrated composers and vocalists of Sufi and folk music, together with a rotating group of musicians of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds. The aim of Amir Vahab Ensemble is to draw the listener’s attention to the spiritual dimension of existence.
Western is proud to partner with CARAVAN, SODIC, The Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming, Sweetwater BOCES, the Broadway Theater, and the Wyoming Humanities Council – Think WY, to present “The Bridge” and related programs in Southwest Wyoming from Sept. 8 -30, 2016.