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Harvard professor Sarah Lewis discusses the effect of representation and art on society

Harvard professor talks about her work on Aperture Magizine on March 29 in Plachta Auditorium.

Sarah Lewis believes the arts have helped shape today's society and impacts how people perceive others.

Lewis, an assistant professor of history of art and architecture and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, spoke about race and culture in the U.S. on March 30 in Plachta Auditorium.

Lewis touched on the many ways in which culture, specifically art and images, impacts people's perception of themselves and of others. She talked about how different cultures have been represented through art and images, and how those images can affect the value that is put on certain cultures. 

“Today we’re coming to understand the way in which the culture has led us to measure who we are as a society and also who we are as individuals,” Lewis said. 

Along with her position at Harvard, Lewis is also an accomplished author and editor. Her other accomplishments include serving on former President Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee and having her scholarship published in many academic journal and organizations such as The New York Times

Lewis also discussed how the arts have the ability to drastically change people's ideas on what’s possible and offer new routes to choose. She brought up a few historical examples, one of which was the image of the inside of a slave ship that convinced British parliament to abolish the slave trade. 

The importance of diverse imagery and art today and throughout history was another point Lewis made in her speech. She mentioned a story about her grandfather in which he was expelled from school in the 1920s for inquiring about the lack of minority representation in history books. 

One of the event’s organizers David Stairs, a graphic design professor at CMU, said he also believes in the importance of highlighting the historical achievements of underrepresented communities. 

“We’re improving the way we tell history to encourage more people who have been outside of that history to participate in it,” Stairs said.

Midland senior Sarah Leonard was in attendance for Lewis’ speech and said she was impressed with the way Lewis broke things down. 

“I thought it was really interesting the way that she broke down the ideas of the way things are represented based on culture,” Leonard said. 

To end her speech, Lewis repeated her previous point about the impact of culture and art on our society. 

“What I hope I’ve been able to communicate tonight is that indeed culture does measure human life,” Lewis said. “The arts, in fact, have been the tools that we have used to create the very society in which we are honored to live together.”