Building Robust & Inclusive Democracy

Moving Towards Our North Star Art Exhibit

At the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, Dean Dayna Cunningham has offered an aspirational North Star that will guide us in our work moving forward: building robust, inclusive democracy for an increasingly multiracial society.

Submissions to this exhibit came from across the Tufts community, including students, staff, faculty, and community members. The art on display relates to the theme of multiracial democracy or portrays the artist’s expression of their own North Star, whether that be what guides them, what inspires them, or what holds them accountable as they navigate the world and advance the common good.

This exhibit will be on display in Barnum Hall from October 20 - December 14, 2022.

Featuring Artwork By

  • Abigail Lawrence
  • Alpha Massaquoi jr
  • Caitlin Lu
  • Diego Javier Luis
  • Doug Brugge
  • Elliot Nwaobi
  • Jonathan Case
  • ponnapa prakkamaukl
  • Rahim Gray
  • Sarah Schneiderman
  • Tamer Jokhdar

Chang’e: Goddess of The Moon, Abigail Lawrence

Abigail Lawrence
Chang’e: Goddess of The Moon, 2021

Chinese watercolor paint on mixed media paper

Chang’e is a prolific deity in Chinese mythology. In one such tale, her essence is the origin of the Mid Autumn Moon Festival.

Qipao Disco, Abigail Lawrence

Abigail Lawrence
Qipao Disco, 2022

Acrylic paint on canvas

A recent resurgence of qipao in modern fashion makes grandma (po po) nostalgic of her young years in the 70s Shanghai club scene.

My pieces encapsulate both ancient and modern concepts about finding glimmers of guidance from both the past and present. Articles of clothing and trends, ancestral traditions and celebrations, and small mundane victories. All of these are a part of the human experience that keeps us looking for the guidance of the future, but also reflections of the past.

Bankai, Senbonzakura, Alpha Massaquoi Jr.

Alpha Massaquoi jr
Bankai, Senbonzakura, 2022

Charcoal and soft pastel

Season Change, Alpha Massaquoi Jr.

Alpha Massaquoi jr
Season Change, 2022

Charcoal and soft pastel

My work is all about looking the what is beyond the human capability, looking to be lead by something or some one in the stars. I use my faith as a jumping board to connect the pieces for me. As most people know, the North star was use to guide the three wise men to see baby Jesus. Full Artist Statement

Our Table, Caitlin Lu

Caitlin Lu
Our Table, 2022

Digital art

This digital design illustrates my personal North Star, which is the feeling of oneness when indulging in my culture’s food. The illustration depicts a dragon emerging from the steam of all the surrounding fresh foods. The dragon in Chinese culture often represents determination and persistence. Food enables everyone to take part in a culture and connect with one another. As a first generation Chinese & Vietnamese student, I struggled to accept my own culture growing up due to bullying. Despite trying to reject my culture and heritage as part of my identity, I still grew up eating my culture’s food. Moving towards the North Star, this illustration invites others to be a part of others’ cultures through food and collectivity. The dragon appearing through the steam represents perseverance in our struggles. 

With each point of hardship in my life, my North Star has always been the feeling of sitting down and enjoying my culture’s food. In my artwork, the feeling is depicted by a dragon that appears within the puff of steam coming from the freshly cooked food. This motif and the idea of seeing a dragon within the steam have stayed with me since my childhood, when I had previously rejected my Chinese and Vietnamese identity.

 In elementary school, I was assigned to draw a traditional Chinese dragon for Chinese New Year. After getting a grade for the work, I immediately threw away my drawing because I felt ashamed of my culture and of feeling different among my classmates. Seeing this, my art teacher picked up my drawing from the trash bin and returned it to me. As I grew older and became more connected to my roots, I often reflected on that moment, particularly during and after a family dinner. This vivid memory became a pivotal moment where I questioned where the shame in my identity stemmed from. As I continued to reflect on this moment, I identified with the dragon, a determined and persistent spirit. Even as I physically and symbolically threw out the drawing, the dragon persevered, whereas the drawing and cultural identity came back to me. 

Food plays a significant part in every culture. When we eat, we are connected to those around us as well as those who have come before us, who have created these recipes and ate similar dishes. Even as I had rejected my identity, my culture’s food represented my north star and has guided me to who I am today. The beauty of food is that it can be shared. We move towards the North Star, as a collective, when we continue to share and invite others to our table.

Procesión de Oshún, Diego Javier Luis

Diego Javier Luis
Procesión de Oshún, 2019


During the inaugural Bienal international art festival in Matanzas, Cuba in 2019, an avatar of the goddess Oshún processes through La Marina, the neighborhood widely credited as the birthplace of Afro-Cuban religions.

I took this image during a trip to Matanzas, Cuba, to witness the Bienal, an international art festival that, for the first time, not just featured but centered Afro-Cuban art, culture, and religiosity. This spotlight, investiture, and celebration offered a rare moment of reconciliation to spiritual beliefs that had been persecuted and suppressed for most of modern Cuban history.

Woman Behind Bullhorn, Doug Brugge

Doug Brugge
Woman Behind Bullhorn, 1993


This and a number of other photos were taken at a protest against Tufts Medical Center's proposal to build a 455-car parking garage on Parcel C, a City of Boston-owned parcel that had previously been slated for development of a community center. The site included a daycare tot lot, faced a row of three-story brick row houses, and was down the street from an elderly housing development, where the woman behind the bullhorn lived. A frequent participant in the many protests against the garage, she told the crowd, "When they come, we'll lie down in front of the bulldozers!"

The struggle against the garage on Parcel C was a landmark turning point in Chinatown's history of injustices related to urban development. Following this multi-year organizing effort in the 1990s, the Boston Redevelopment Authority began to conduct community outreach for open public meetings, provided bilingual access to information, and acknowledged foe the first time that there were multiple voices in the community.

Highest in the Room, Elliot Nwaobi

Elliot Nwaobi

Pen on paper

“She fill my mind up with ideas.” I find it endearing when people refer to their country as ‘She’. It’s almost like you’re talking about your sister or your mother – some woman that you hold in extremely high esteem. To me, America is like a dear friend. Her story and mine are inextricably connected.

Like so many of us, she started out full of potential. As a kid, I had my father to look up to, she had a few Founding Fathers who harnessed the power of their faith and made some serious sacrifices to make sure that America was focusing her potential in the right direction.
As much as I loved my dad, I had to grow up to realize that he was not a perfect person and that there would be things in my life that I would have to face by myself. America’s Fathers weren’t perfect either and as such America has a seriously checkered past.

Anyone who looks at her story so far, would do well to notice that her past never stopped her from moving away from those things that the whole world accepted. Slowly, painfully and through many bloody wars, she rejected those things and embraced the better ideas of the Founding Fathers.

Hers is the story of slow progress guided by faith and sacrifice. Her story is the rejection of those things that stop her from fulfilling her potential in the best way. And for me, having come from another country that did not have her guiding principles, I see her story as inspiration to soar to greater heights and fulfill my own potential.

Estonteco Sekureco, Episode 0.04: Vermilion Line, Jonathan Case

Jonathan Case
Estonteco Sekureco, Episode 0.04: Vermilion Line, 2022

UHD video loop

This work presents a contingent vision of the future through the visual language often used to do so through popular culture; that of anime. But instead of thrilling violence, exotic technologies, or power fantasies, this work offers a utopian vision of post-climate crisis North America; an imagined society that rises from the ruins built on principles of egalitarianism and a new form of multiracial democracy.

Planet II, ponnapa prakkamaukl

ponnapa prakkamaukl
Planet II, 2019

mixed media on paper with minerals and charcoal collected from San Pedro de Atacama Desert in Chile

As a painter and a landscape architect, my work explores the relationship between humans and their environment, focusing on cultural displacement and sense of belonging. Using found materials foraged from landscapes and stories collected from local communities, my goal is to create place-specific artwork that truly represents their identity and cultivates a stronger sense of place. In 2019, I travelled to the Atacama Desert in Chile, an area resembling the Martian, to create Beyond Planet Earth collection. I stayed with the indigenous people of the Atacama Desert to observe their relationship within this extreme landscape. 

Planet III inspired by Likan Antai people's belief in the three worlds; our world on the ground, the world above and below. Listening to their folklores on the interconnected relationship between these worlds, the work utilizes stereographic projection to combine views from multiple angles into one scene creating an illusion of looking from above and below simultaneously. This idea responds to the North Star and how we live in an inclusive multiracial community.

I am a Revolutionary, Rahim Gray

Rahim Gray
I am a Revolutionary, 2021

Fluid acrylics

Let Them Talk, Rahim Gray

Rahim Gray
Let Them Talk, 2021

Fluid acrylics

When I hear the words “North star”, I think of escaping to freedom, of finding a guiding light. I think about the freedom trail, and how enslaved people used the North Star to navigate to freedom. I also think of artistic and creative freedom. I made these pieces by trying out a new technique - the technique itself would provide me freedom in the ability to do new things in my art.

Another theme important to me is representation.  

Everyone makes art, it’s universal. But much of what is seen in museums features white subjects or is made by white artists. There is power in representation in these images - both in the content and by the creator.

Maureen Turner, First Non-binary and Muslim Person Elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Sarah Schneiderman

Sarah Schneiderman
Maureen Turner (D) - First Non-binary and Muslim Person Elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, 2021

Non-recyclable trash on paper and foam core

In 2020, US voters elected many people from formerly underrepresented groups to local, state, and federal government legislatures. This trend continued in 2021, with the appointments of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people to significant positions within Biden’s administration. This news inspired me to continue to make portraits of politicians - a practice I started in 2016. I made this piece to celebrate that Mauree Turner made history. They are the first non-binary and first Muslim to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. I found an image with a “creative commons” license of Turner on the internet to use as my model. I transformed trash into a beautiful portrait to invoke how our society relegated Black, queer, and Muslim people to the garbage heap and how they have risen above this stereotype. I made this assemblage, which measures 11.75 X 14.75 inches, on paper and foam core. The fairy brooch belonged to my first same-sex lover.

After four years of experiencing a presidential administration that seemed to have no north star, I was elated to see an influx of many people of color and LGBTQ+ people elected or confirmed to local, state, and federal government positions. The people represented in these portraits have worked tirelessly to guide us forward despite the turmoil in the United States of America. So it is of vital importance to me that the people who are making strides by representing a multi-racial democracy be not only seen but celebrated for being a beacon of hope in advancing the common good.

Wait for a Long Time, Tamer Jokhadar

Tamer Jokhadar
Wait for a Long Time, 2018

Charcoal and oil on canvas

Although the Syrian War has ended, desperate refugees who escaped the death and destruction of war are still living in desolated refugee camps in neighboring countries. Lives are still on hold and still staring at the North Start and waiting...

Tamer Jorkhadar, a Syrian refugee artist, and a father of four kids resides in the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan. His art illustrates their struggle and the hardship of refuge blended with hope and resilience.