A new Labor Studies art exhibit is now open at the University of Washington's Odegaard Library in Seattle. The exhibit, titled "Contemporary Labor Organizing in Washington State", was created by undergraduate students in the Building a Movement Labor Internship program hosted by the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, which focuses on student activism and labor organizing. The exhibit runs through May 19, 2023 and is viewable in-person on the second floor of Odegaard Library. An on-line virtual version of the exhibit is also available.
The Building a Movement exhibit aims to highlight contemporary labor organizing efforts in Washington state, with a particular focus on community activism that is not traditionally associated with the labor movement. The goal of the exhibit is to showcase the richness of labor organizing and to encourage community members, especially UW students, to explore their relationship to labor and labor activism. There are posters, paintings, and mixed media pieces, all focused on different aspects of labor and activism. One poster, for example, depicts the unionization efforts of Ostrom Mushroom Workers in Sunnyside, WA, while another features a portrait of Eli Zing, a young adult trying to unionize their Amazon warehouse.
The internship’s coordinator Soohyung Hur (she/her) explained that the exhibit aims to expand the definition of labor organizing and bring attention to community activism that is often overlooked.
“Labor is not mutually exclusive with questions about race, gender, and sexuality,” Hur said. “We wanted to show how these different lenses on how we think about these topics and how they are relevant when we think about labor organizing and how people are impacted in different workplaces depending on things such as immigration status. The exhibit does a good job of showcasing these issues and how labor has to be intersectional because workers are multifaceted.”
Hur organized the exhibit in tandem with Sai Ahmed (they/them), the Bridges Center’s Assistant Director for Student and Community Engagement.
The art exhibit is a truly impressive display of the current labor activism efforts taking place in Washington. With a diverse range of pieces, each one offers a unique perspective on different aspects of labor organizing. This is a great way to tie all of the artwork together, and the stand-alone pieces make it easy for visitors to focus on each piece and fully appreciate the message behind it.
The process of curating the exhibit was largely student-driven. Students were inspired by creative projects from previous years of the Building a Movement internship, such as prose and poetry, and independently produced artwork and personal statements that illustrated the evolving dynamic between the growing labor movement and local community networks.
When asked how art can be seen as a tool for promoting student activism and labor organization, Hur affirmed the importance of having folks get creative in whichever way they chose to define that. “We wanted a medium that folks usually don’t get to exercise in school and gave them a platform that spoke to them the most.”
The range of artwork on display in the exhibit is impressive. From the collage representing the activism of grocery workers to the watercolor painting depicting the grueling working conditions of Amazon delivery workers, and the story map of community organizing in Chinatown and the International District in Seattle, visitors are sure to leave with a greater appreciation of the current labor organizing efforts in Washington state. The exhibit is a powerful reminder that labor activism is not just about unions and strikes, but also encompasses community organizing, grassroots efforts, and more.
Hur emphasized the importance of community organization and grassroots efforts, highlighting the program’s initiative to establish community hours with community organizations involved in the labor movement. “Since it’s in the student library, we hoped that folks would be curious enough to educate themselves and see themselves in a labor organization as people that could be potential labor organizers. We wanted to traditionally expand on what labor means and who participates in the labor movement. We’re hosting community hours and we hope that community organizations can see how they have influenced and impacted the student’s thinking and blurring the lines between the boundaries of UW and the community.”
Overall, the "Contemporary Labor Organizing in Washington State" exhibit is a powerful reminder of the importance of labor organizing and the need for social justice in our society. It is also a testament to the power of art as a means of conveying important messages and inspiring activism.
Access to Odegaard Library is limited to UW students and faculty. Community members wishing to view the exhibit are encouraged to contact the Harry Bridges Center to schedule a viewing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
View the online Building a Movement art exhibit
Learn more about the Building a Movement Labor Internship