In his exhibition Never Silent: Take Back the Night running through Nov. 3 at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Steinhilber Art Gallery in Reeve Memorial Union, alumnus Michael Wartgow ’94, of Neenah, hopes to inspire his audience to speak out against domestic violence and sexual assault.
Wartgow created the pieces in the exhibit in connection with the 27th annual Fox Valley Take Back the Night campus and community awareness event to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 18.
The Take Back The Night event at UW Oshkosh is an opportunity to raise awareness, spotlight allies, support survivors and remember those lost to violence. The program will offer remarks from a survivor and community agencies and offer participants the opportunity to learn more about domestic and sexual violence and about how to support victims, survivors, families and friends to end violence.
“These works address the subject of generational trauma and incorporate the accounts of people, along with specific themes revolving around empowerment and self-reflection,” he said.
Wartgow was inspired, in part, by the seventh generation philosophy of the Iroquois that urges the current generation to live and work for the benefit of the seventh generation in the future.
“This exhibition talks about the need to recognize and learn from the related struggles within our families and to understand that the decisions we make today will affect our family for generations to come,” he explained. “The importance of this idea comes from knowing that if a family member didn’t heal from something they suffered, then that hurt will be passed on to the next generation. This cycle of hurt will then continue to be passed on until someone within the family addresses it and begins the healing process.”
Art for social change
Wartgow said artists tap into what is happening in society both socially and culturally.
“For me, tackling a subject like sexual assault is not only about raising awareness but also about empowering people to speak out in order to bring about change,” he said. “That means creating images that are both challenging and inspiring … ones that leave the view with a greater sense of purpose.”
The power of art comes from society’s response to it, he added.
“We are bombarded with images and ideas everyday through various media sources. The pace upon which we are currently receiving information can desensitize us to the overall power of a message, to the point that we move away from particularly important subjects rather quickly,” he said. “Art can be used to flush out this noise and to elevate our senses in a time when we need clarity. Images, words or sounds can be profound and art has a unique way of putting things under a microscope, which raises our awareness to it and allows us to question our relationship to the times in which we live.”
Wartgow graduated from UWO in 1994 with a bachelor of fine art’s degree in painting. He earned a master’s in fine art in painting from Kent State University in 2002.
Doors open for Take Back The Night at the UW Oshkosh Alumni Welcome and Conference Center, 625 Pearl Ave., Oshkosh, at 5 p.m. The event begins with a drum circle, continues with the program at 6 p.m., the rally march at 6:45 p.m. and concludes with at the art gallery in Reeve Memorial Union, 748 Algoma Blvd. The Steinhilber Gallery is located in Room 304 on the third floor of Reeve.