Traveling art exhibit “Dear World” brings UNO’s community together
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“Dear World,” the New Orleans-founded traveling art exhibit famous for its viral social media photos, returned home to set up shop at the University of New Orleans’ campus on Feb. 6 and 7.
The exhibit’s premise was simple: participants came to the space with a personal story in mind they wanted to share with the world. The “Dear World” crew then paired the participants with each other at random, and the participants told their stories.
Afterward, the participants wrote a phrase on their bodies taken from their stories that meant something to them, words that suggest a deeper meaning and often encapsulate the importance of the story.
At the exhibit, a photo of the volunteer was taken with the body art visible, oftentimes becoming very popular on social media. The words on skin act akin to the tip of the iceberg, a small but visible and mysterious portion of a much larger picture.
Isis Burgos, a graduate business student, worked with “Dear World” for their UNO visit. “We don’t open up to each other that much, especially on this campus where many people just come to class and then go home.”
“‘Dear World’ gets students to stop their daily routine and realize there are real people on this campus, people with stories begging to be told.”
“Dear World” set up shop downstairs at the University Center Monday evening and had a VIP session where specific faculty were asked to come and take a photo, including President John Nicklow.
Tuesday morning, “Dear World” opened up to campus-wide student participation, and the team played loud music all day while encouraging students who walked by to participate.
Candice Stanton, a worker in Student Success Center, volunteered to work with “Dear World.” “Students come in, and they tell us our story. Maybe it’s about what brought us to UNO, or maybe even what brought us to the United States.”
Burgos said, “The stories are always interesting and sometimes emotional as well. There have been more than a few times when people listening to the story got tears in their eyes.”
Stanton said, “It gets really emotional sometimes, the stories are so personal. They finally have the chance to externalize their feelings on their chest, shoulder, leg or anywhere really. That picture can be cathartic.”
Once their body had the phrase written, a photo was taken and subsequently shown on social media, which is where the traveling exhibit gets most of its publicity. “Dear World” leaves something like a social media wake in its absence; dozens of photos on Facebook and Instagram are shared for several weeks after the event.
Even if students are not aware the exhibit is called “Dear World,” almost everyone knows of the viral pictures. Out of the hundreds of students who participated, five photographs were chosen by the “Dear World” staff to be exhibited on UNO’s website, as well as nationally shared.
The workers at “Dear World” had differing opinions about why UNO decided to bring the experience to campus.
Candice said, “We wanted to bring ‘Dear World’ to campus mainly to highlight the diversity we have on campus. UNO has been nationally known to have a very diverse population, and this was a great way to get our students to mingle and to know one another and understand the differences we have.”
Isis Burgos believed the exhibit had different effects on campus. “I feel like ‘Dear World’ is more about building a sense of community at the school, letting students share their stories with one another. Most students show vulnerability at this event, and that’s key to opening up and making connections with others.”