How the painted story of one student is inspiring others to share their own.
The small corners of a viewfinder frame her left eye. Her right hand reaches out, as if to invite you in. Around her, images of Haitian protesters, a sunny neighborhood and a darkened city street tell her story.
It's the story of Yenifer Mezquita ’16E, painted by María Darrow ’15 on a wall in the office of Rick Lopez ’93, Dean of New Students. The narrative is personal to Mezquita—representing memories of her childhood in the Dominican Republic and later moving to the Bronx—yet it also symbolizes the diversity that makes up the Amherst community.
The mural is a continuation of Darrow’s senior thesis project in studio art, for which she painted five murals—all portraits of students—in the stairwells of the social dorms.
Lopez, an Amherst history professor and one of Darrow’s thesis advisors, says of her work, “I was moved by María’s ability to express so much visually through the story of a single woman.” So moved, that he offered his office as a space for Darrow to create a sixth mural.
Darrow returned to campus in August and painted the mural over the course of two months. She refers to its various pieces as “windows of storytelling,” and explains the sections metaphorically, rather than concretely.
For instance, one section includes black silhouettes of hands. “I see them as both struggling and shaping,” Darrow says, “creating pressure and tension.” Another section features architectural elements—Georgian columns, red brick and white trim—that are a nod to some students’ critique that there are too few gathering spaces for students on campus.
For Lopez, the mural illustrates a desire to create meaningful, institutional change at Amherst. “My goal during my entire time at Amherst, first as a student, then as a professor, and now as Dean of New Students, has been to create possibilities for the diverse students that make up our community to see themselves reflected in the institution," he says.
More than half of every entering class of first-year and transfer students come into the Dean of New Students office each year, and sophomores, juniors, seniors, faculty, staff, parents and alumni often gather there for meetings.
"The mural normalizes for everyone who passes through the office the reality of the faces and experiences of the people who comprise the Amherst College community," Lopez says, "and invites deeper understanding in ways that tokening and cliché photos of diverse students that are supposed to represent the rainbow of diversity never can."