image title

Visitors challenged to share reflections at ASU's 'Undoing Time' exhibit

Viewers challenged to reflect on social justice exhibit "Undoing Time."
January 6, 2022

Theater professor created interactive installations that focus on the viewer’s journey

“Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration,” the social justice exhibition at the ASU Art Museum, asks viewers to do more than contemplate the artworks that address mass incarceration.

The show, the first ever to take over the entire museum, wants visitors to be actively engaged in thinking about the history, the future and their own relationship to the crisis.

Michael Rohd, one of the 12 artists in the show, focuses on the viewer’s journey throughout the exhibition.

“The team approached me a few years ago about being in a conversation about how an audience might move through the museum in different ways than they generally do,” said Rohd, an Institute Professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University.

“I focus on the relationship between the visitor and the architecture of the space and the thematic material of all the works in general.”

Rohd also is the founding artistic director of the ensemble-based Sojourn Theatre.

“They asked me to do this because I’ve done a lot of work in participatory tactics in my performance work, so I have a sense of how people will interact with these things,” he said.

His text-based work challenges viewers in the spaces in between the museum galleries — stairwells and hallways. The words ask people to think about the issue, and to share their reflections in two interactive installations.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

Rohd answered some questions from ASU News about his work in the show, which runs through Feb. 12.

Question: How did you start working on your part of the exhibit?

Answer: I started doing research on all the artists as well as the history of mass incarceration.

I was really moved from the beginning in how you invite an audience to consider the work that the artists have put up and have their own reflection process. So they’re thinking about the material not just as something they’re witnessing, but also thinking about their own experience of it and their own experience of this issue in the world, whether that’s been that they’re aware of it, or engage with it or lived it.

Q: Did you observe how visitors move through the museum?

A: I went to previous exhibits here and watched how people moved through to understand how they interacted with the architecture here.

I did research on ways that artists have worked with participation in museums. There’s a long tradition of that in museum work, and I’ve seen some of that as a visitor.

Children’s museums have a long history of playful participation, and I’m generally pretty interested in playfulness in participation.

Writing displayed on stairs

Michael Rohd created an installation that challenges viewers to actively and immediately reflect on the exhibits in "Undoing Time." This text is just outside the first gallery. Photo by Craig Smith

Q: How did you decide to create the text on the stairwell near the first galleries?

A: First, I spent some time in the museum thinking about interstitial spaces, or journey spaces. Each gallery has an artist. Where are folks moving?

So the first thing I did was place this text here (near the stairs): "Each day you have moved towards, through and amidst ..."

So as people come out of these first couple of galleries they would encounter this text. You’re the "you." So it’s immediately making "you" not just the person looking, but suddenly you’re involved in the journey. It’s saying, “You have done this thing.” So it’s asking you to reorient a little bit conceptually.

This prompt finishes on the staircase – “perception, perspective and possibility.”

Q: Was it hard to come up with the text?

A: I spent a lot of time working on the text and talking to the other artists in the exhibit because I wanted to make sure I was getting at the themes they were exploring as well as having my own point of view on the journey that an audience member might take. I wanted audience members thinking about these three words as they moved through: perception, perspective and possibility.

I’m really interested in inquiry. I was thinking a lot about how questions could be part of the journey. The exhibits are filled with beautiful imagery, media and story. And I wanted to ask questions.

The first thing I did was come up with the spaces where I wanted the interactions to be. And then I did the content. I knew I was going to use this staircase, and I thought it was a great place for the questions that are related to the content.

Q: Have you ever used a staircase as a medium before?

A: As a theater-maker, I’ve done a lot of site-specific theater. So I’ve staged things on stairways before. I haven’t put text on a stairway before.

Michael Rohd utilized the staircases and hallways of the ASU Art Museum for his exhibit in "Undoing Time." Photo by Craig Smith

Q: You’ve created two interactive components — a hallway in which visitors are invited to write out answers to prompts, and an installation at the end in which they can answer prompts that are projected onto a gallery wall. Why did you decide to include participatory works?

A: I think it’s more and more common that museums offer things that are interactive. I think these two participatory pieces are unique in the way they invite you to interact and the depth of the questions they’re asking you to consider.

I worked really hard to make the invitation language clear. I had many more questions and then I narrowed it down.

This question is trying to understand the main thesis of the entire exhibit. The question is, “Imagine a future in which …” And this person answered, “… our inner lives have not been swallowed by consumerism, technology and fear.”

I do love coming in and reading what people are writing. I come every other week and look at them.

Q: Have you changed the exhibit at all since the show started?

A: No. In theater, you do that a lot. You learn a lot in previews with audiences. In a museum, it’s a little harder because of the object relationship. You’re making objects that have to live in the space for a while.

“Undoing Time,” which runs through Feb. 12, is organized by Miki Garcia, Heather Sealy Lineberry, Matthew Villar Miranda and Julio César Morales, and features artists Carolina Aranibar-Fernández, Juan Brenner, Raven Chacon, Sandra de la Loza, Ashley Hunt, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Michael Rohd, Paul Rucker, Xaviera Simmons, Stephanie Syjuco, Vincent Valdez and Mario Ybarra Jr.

Top photo: Michael Rohd, Institute Professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, in the "Undoing Time: Art and Histories of Incarceration" exhibit at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


image title

Open Learning Scholars Program creates pathway to ASU degree

ASU partnership boosts young learners in Middle East, northern Africa.
January 6, 2022

Al Ghurair Foundation for Education partnership produces more than 140 grads

Heba Ahmed was so excited that she could barely sit during her graduation ceremony on Dec. 13 at Arizona State University.

Ahmed, who earned a master’s degree in software engineering, said she wanted to stand and record everything going on around her.

“It was the best experience ever,” she said. “I never imagined I would be able to do it, and I’m so happy.”

Ahmed, who traveled from Saudi Arabia, was the first ASU Online student in the Open Learning Scholars Program to attend graduation in person. The Open Learning Scholars Program, which began in 2018 through a partnership with the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, has now created more than 140 ASU Online graduates who live in the Middle East and northern Africa region.

Overall, 550 Open Learning Scholars have received scholarships to pursue master’s degrees through ASU Online, and the final group of scholars will begin their studies from among 39 degree options this spring, including education, engineering, sustainability and biomimicry, according to Lisa Manning, project manager at EdPlus, the ASU unit that houses ASU Online.

“All of the degrees were hand-picked by the foundation because they identified gaps in student access to certain skills and careers, and ASU can fill this gap,” Manning said.

“It was a really beneficial element of the design. We weren’t saying, ‘Here’s what you need.’ We said, ‘Here’s what we offer,’ and they could pick what was relevant to the region and the students and their vision.”

The goal of the program is to turn the investment in the student into an investment in the region. Emirati businessman and philanthropist Abdulla Al Ghurair, the founder of Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education (AGFE), pledged one-third of his wealth to the foundation and set a target of helping 50,000 Emirati learners become ready for higher education and work, and providing 150,000 Arab youth with a path to sustainable and elevated livelihoods through high-quality educational solutions by 2025. The foundation is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“These scholars have been targeted as students who historically would not have been able to complete their next-level degree without support,” Manning said.

“These are 550 individuals who are getting access to change their lives and impact their communities and regions.”

Ahmed said she didn’t get the scholarship the first time she applied.

“I applied again, and when I got to the interview, they (asked) me, ‘What would you do if you got rejected?’ and I told them, 'I will apply again and again until you accept me,'” said Ahmed, who works in Saudi Arabia as a web developer.

“Being an online student at one of the best universities in the U.S. — what else is there in the world?”

Some of the students in the Middle East and northern African region have faced challenges, according to Ruth Tisdale, a program manager at EdPlus.

“They have seen everything from civil unrest to government protests to internet shortages to electricity shortages,” she said.

Manning said that issues that affect whole countries affect the students even more dramatically.

“In Lebanon, where there is electricity rationing, students are using gas-powered generators to charge their laptops enough to access their lectures,” she said.

“The professors are working closely with them to send downloadable lectures they can watch without Wi-Fi, if needed.”

The Open Learning Scholars have become fully engaged with ASU, starting two student clubs: Egyptian Sun Devils and Sun Devils Global Friends.

And when the students wanted more opportunities to practice English and meet their peers, ASU Online created the Program for Language and Culture Exchange, which matches students from different countries for a semester of conversation.

Ahmed participated in the Delta Sigma online sorority and the AGFE group in between her studies.

“My advice would be, don’t think because it’s online it’ll be easy. It’s not,” she said. “It’s a long road, but at the end, you’ll be proud of yourself.”

Serving young learners

Another facet of ASU’s partnership with AGFE is the Al Ghurair Young Thinkers Program, a college and career readiness platform for Emirati and Arab people ages 15 to 30.

“There’s a void in terms of career guidance and counseling in high schools and universities in the region, so this resource fills in those gaps,” said Tiffany Lehn, assistant director of EdPlus. 

“It helps them make career decisions and make decisions on which degree program they want to study and what university to go to.”

Nearly 50,000 young people from 21 countries have registered to use the free platform, which offers 35 courses in both English and Arabic, in topics such as public speaking, digital literacy, how to write a resume, how to study effectively and time management. More than half of the users are female.

From 4 p.m. to midnight every weekday, learners can chat with ASU-trained, bilingual success advisers, who have lived in the Middle East.

They also can explore options through ASU’s me3 interactive online tool that matches their interests to a career path.

“We adapted the ASU version and regionalized it with images of Emirati and Arabs from different countries, with specific careers that are relevant and important to the region,” Lehn said.

The foundation wants Arab youth to gain professional skills to be competitive in a global economy, and also to be trained in STEM fields, according to Bethany Weigele, chief innovation officer at EdPlus.

“They want to support greater participation of Emirati youth in the private sectors,” Weigele said.

“There’s been a heavy reliance on government employment, and they want to encourage youth to work in the private sector.”

In early December, the Young Thinkers Program won the gold medal for the best online program in the QS Reimagine Education competition, among 1,100 entries.

“We’re serving those learners who really need help in college and career readiness, which is clearly aligned with our mission at ASU,” Weigele said.

“We provide that support that alleviates barriers.”

Top photo: Heba Ahmed traveled from Saudi Arabia for her graduation ceremony on Dec. 13 at Arizona State University. Ahmed, who earned a master’s degree in software engineering, won a scholarship through the Open Learning Scholars Program. Photo by Brandon Sullivan

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News