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Art Meets Social Justice With Recycled Figures

October 20, 2015

Students in Richard Gomez’s Arts 171: Art for Social Change course have had a special role in the Yosemite Facelift, an annual project that focuses volunteers on cleaning up Yosemite National Park in late September after its busy season. This year, nearly 1,500 volunteers spent almost 9,700 work hours collecting 14,762 pounds of litter and other waste from the park over six days.

"Sally Junk" on display outside of Merced Theatre during Art Hop.Gomez’s students created figures from some of the materials volunteers collected. With names like “Sally Junk” and “The Trashy Mermaid,” the figures were on display in the park for a few weeks, then made a brief appearance at last weekend's Art Hop in downtown Merced. They were installed on campus Wednesday.

Though the figures — like the one of a reclined figure made of trash — provide commentary of their own, the communication is not one-sided. Each figure has an accompanying notebook so viewers can share their thoughts and reactions to the pieces.

"The Recycled Figure Project was a big success thanks to the collaborative efforts of Jesse Chakrin and Jacob Croasdale of the Yosemite Leadership Program," Gomez said. "We’ve already begun talks of returning next year.

“Everything I do in this class, I do for the first time,” added the lecturer, who teaches for both the arts and the Global Arts Studies Program. “It's always exciting to see where the ideas will lead. It is important for us to bridge our campus to Yosemite and include the community in our projects. UC Merced is a very unique campus and we need to utilize what makes us special."

The figures will be on display for about two weeks. One pair will be outside the Leo and Dottie Kolligian Library and another will overlook the Beginnings sculpture from the Science and Engineering Building.