Through their partnership with the College of Charleston, The Chucktown Squash Scholars program affords students of Charleston’s Title I schools the opportunity to gain mentorship, leadership experience, and critical thinking skills through various activities. As one of those activities, students get the chance to analyze Fahamu Pecou’s DO or DIE: Affect, Ritual, Resistance multimedia art exhibition at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. Once a week for five weeks, a group of students is invited to deconstruct a different work each time to get the core of what makes the piece interesting and analyze how it relates to current society.
Before the first session, students got the opportunity to meet the artist—an opportunity few art enthusiasts get the chance to have. Pecou answered any inquiries the students had about what inspired the exhibit and his journey to becoming an artist. Since the initial meeting, the students have been gathering in circle discussions.
The Touchstones Discussion Project is a way of communicating in large and small groups that encourages everyone to share what is on their mind. With only 5 rules, the method is straightforward: read the text carefully, listen to others and do not interrupt, speak clearly and so everyone can hear you, give others your respect, and do not raise your hand. By incorporating Touchstones, the playing field becomes leveled and everyone becomes equal.
“The great thing about touchstones is its ability to draw out students’ inner thoughts without them feeling judged or isolated,” says Halsey Institute board member, Karole Turner Campbell. “It’s a way to get them to engage with what they are seeing.”
While these rules may seem elementary, the discussions produced are anything but. Initially, the students were shy and slow to answer. Now, with three sessions under their belts, the students have dove head first into the content. Some students even share anecdotes about how the art relates to their personal lives while others reflect on seeing images of Black bodies being slain in the media. With so much depiction of Black deaths in recent media, the Touchstones sessions offer much more than just an hour of art. The students’ interactions with the text provides an outlet for their unique opinions, free of any judgments or hostility. When asked, the students say that they do not discuss such powerful subject matter at their schools. With the Touchstones sessions providing a safe and open forum, these young minds can release their inner thoughts on the world in which they live.
By Jaquan Leonard, Halsey Intern