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New exhibition at MIAD aims to foster empathy in current divisive social and political climate

Dec 11, 2017

Human Possible: The EMPATHY exhibition

In our current divisive social and political landscape, the newest exhibit at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD) asks viewers to do what lately seems rather difficult: feel empathy. “Humanly Possible: The Empathy Exhibition” is on view in MIAD’s Frederick Layton Gallery January 12 – March 10. The public reception is Friday, January 19, 5 – 9 p.m. on Winter Gallery Night.  “Humanly Possible: The Empathy Exhibition” is sponsored in part by the Mary L. Nohl Fund of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.

“The best way to avoid empathy is to avoid sensorial contact,” says exhibit curator John Schuerman. In this exhibit, viewers cannot avoid such contact. Instead, they are immersed in the works of 12 artists who have varied perspectives. While internalizing the experiences of others through art, viewers are challenged to engage their potential for empathy, and ultimately decide whether to exercise it.

Ben by Lois Bielefeld, photograph, 2014

Ben by Lois Bielefeld, photograph, 2014

Participants include seven artists from the exhibit’s original Minneapolis run and five new artists, like recent Mary L. Nohl Fellowship winner Lois Bielefeld of Milwaukee. Her photography and digital media work explores the power and complexity of gender identity. Raoul Deal, also of Milwaukee and new to the exhibit, displays large-scale woodcuts that address the difficulty of celebrating one’s Mexican heritage in a society that can be hostile toward immigrants. Work by Juliane Shibata, Tina Blondell, Inna Valin, Chase Boston, Christopher E. Harrison, Nooshin Hakim and Peter B. Nelson (all from the original exhibition) and Liza Sylvestre, Gudrun Lock and Sue Coe (new to the exhibition) is also on view.

Special programming:

  • Thursday, February 1, 6 p.m. – Empathy Through the Visual Arts: An Artist’s Discussion Three of the exhibition’s artists (Lois Bielefeld, Tina Blondell and Gudrun Lock) along with curator John Schuerman and moderator Leslie Fedorchuk discuss the concept of empathy and its manifestation in the visual arts. Reception to follow.
  • Thursday, February 15, 7 p.m. – Empathy, Connections and Borders: An Evening of Poetry and Storytelling A night of visual and oral storytelling between artists and writers from Milwaukee and Minneapolis exploring empathy, creating human connections and crossing borders. Performers include Michael Kleber-Diggs, Anais Deal-Marquez, Kavon Cortez-Jones, Dinorah Marquez, Isela Xitlali Gómez and Eli Avalos.
  • Thursday, March 1, 7 p.m. – 100 Lullabies (Lullaby Songs for Refugees) An experiential platform for listening to stories of war, face to face with artists who grew up during war in the Middle East. Audience members will be invited to sing and record a song of comfort or lullaby in their own language for children who are affected or displaced from their motherland by war. Participants include: Nooshin Hakim Javadi, Pedram Baldari and Katayoun Amjadi.

MIAD’s galleries are free and open to the public, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Free gallery tours are available at

Image: Ben by Lois Bielefeld, photograph, 2014