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At Squeaky Wheel exhibition, students tackle genocide, abortion

Nick Lippa

Genocide. Active shooter drills in school. Abortion. These are the topics Buffalo students are exploring in a new art exhibit that opens tonight at Squeaky Wheel. It’s part of the film and media art center’s new educational program called Saturday Café. WBFO’s Nick Lippa spoke with some of the artists and their educators about their work and journey to opening night.

Year-round, young artists make their way to Squeaky Wheel in downtown Buffalo for media arts classes.

“I just got enrolled in it because my mom wanted me to do something over the summer instead of (being) locked in my room like usual,” said artist Zaire Goodman.

Goodman has been taking classes for about three years. He’s one of six students who joined Saturday Café in January, an experimental youth media education project that challenges advanced students who meet on weekend afternoons and not after school.

“School is just super draining during the weekdays and on weekends, people are generally speaking a lot more active and free with their time,” Goodman said.

Squeaky Wheel Education Director Kevin Kline said the program gives students a space where they can express themselves outside of afterschool programs.

“Just like the rest of us, they’ve spent eight hours doing something and like to try to utilize the creativity and what they could do and their focus. We thought maybe separately on a Saturday we could just really get them to build out who they are in a practice and just have more flexibility creatively speaking.”

That flexibility has led to ‘RUIN’D,’ Saturday Café’s first exhibition. Students collectively decided the theme would examine social and cultural systems they feel are failing through video and mixed-media installations.

“It’s student collaborative. So they pick the name, they chose how we work on things and how we move through the process of making work. They’re in control as much we can have them be in control of the process without having to write grants and stuff like that,” Kline laughed.

“I was like making stuff out of paper and wasting all of their tape,” said artist Dominique Scruggs when discussing how the theme came together. “And then we were just like naming ideas and Kevin was writing all on a piece of paper.”

Scruggs created collages out of magazines that hang from the ceiling.

“At first I didn’t know how I wanted my piece to be,” Scruggs said. “It’s not really just one thing. It’s multiple things in one piece. Things that’s going wrong in the world like abortion laws, animal neglection, things like that.”

Scruggs was recruited to Squeaky Wheel by Kline while attending the Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology.

Without resources at home, students like Scruggs develop ideas at home so they hit the ground running when they get to work on Saturday.

“Say I’m trying to find music for like a background. I’ll do all that. Try to find instrumentals and all that stuff,” she said. “And then I come here or go to BCAT, and be like, ‘Ok. This is what I want to do.’ And just like put it all in the computer.”

Scruggs said the class allows her to explore ideas without getting held back.

“You can be yourself. You can be goofy around people here because they don’t judge you,” she said.

This type of environment allows artists like Breanna Roberts to explore topics like genocide and how she said the government in Sudan has failed its people.

“It’s a sad topic. It made me cry when I heard about it,” she said. “Then working on the video made me cry at first but then I got over it because then started getting this feeling that this is really crazy. This could happen in the United States and they wouldn’t care. They didn’t care about it in Sudan so why would they care about it here?”

The title of Roberts’ piece is Ediconeg, which is genocide spelled backward.

Credit Nick Lippa / WBFO
The title of Breanna Roberts’ piece is Ediconeg (Genocide spelled backward).

“At first they protested a lot to get democracy. They got it for a couple of months and then the military came and took it over,” Roberts said. They started doing peaceful protests and then it quickly turned violent,” she said. “The military tried to make them very submissive. ‘You’re going to take our control. You’re going to be happy with it.’ And then they started killing everybody.”

Roberts said she thought hard about the best way to represent the people who deserve justice.

“If someone can see my video, I want them to be like, ‘Ok, this is what’s going on.’ I want to really represent the situation really well,” she said. “It’s hard. And then I take my feelings away because I don’t want to just overload it with a bunch of propaganda or something like that. I just want to represent the topic well, then I want to execute it well, then I want to show them this is what’s going on, someone help in like a creative so it’s not sad all the time.”

Many of the exhibits pieces are accompanied with headphones for their audio. Goodman’s project highlights his writing skills and the visual by utilizing text designs.

“It’s pretty interesting but also like, insanely difficult to use,” Goodman said.

Goodman chose to do his piece on active shooter drills in schools because he said they don’t work.

“They’re flawed in almost every way. So I thought maybe if a lot of people could see it we could spread the word and change how we do these,” said Goodman.

What impressed the teachers greatly, Kline said, was the students’ ability to organize the exhibition in just 15 work hours.

“Basically five Saturdays,” he said. “And they have developed an entire exhibition from tip to tail.”

What would Roberts say to people interested in coming on the weekend?

“I would say come get weird here. That’s all I got to say,” she laughed.

Through Saturday Café, young makers have found a way to have their voice heard. Now all that’s left is to share their work with the public. And in Scruggs’ case, hopefully some close friends.

“I tried to invite them. And I kind of threatened them. I was like, ‘If you don’t come, our friendship is ruined. And they were just like, ‘Ok.’ Because they always make excuses. Like the last time we hung out of school was on my birthday in June. So I was like, ‘If you don’t come, I will come to your house,’ because I know where they live,” she said jokingly.

When asked if there was one friend in particular she pressured, Scruggs didn’t hesitate.

“Jessica,” Scruggs said sternly. “It’s always Jessica,” Kline responded. Scruggs quickly fired back while laughing, “Yes. It’s always Jessica.”

You can join Jessica at RUIN'D’s opening reception Friday night at Squeaky Wheel from 5 to 6 p.m. An artist talk will take place at 6:30 pm.

“It’s best to come see the show and it’s best to come to the opening night because we are going to have these kids talking about their work as well in front of a bunch of people,” Kline said. “They should come and support makers. Not just young makers, but the city itself of makers.”

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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