Art should challenge old hierarchies and bring social justice, says Yulia Tikhonova, who moved from New York a year ago to become director of the UCF Art Gallery.

To focus on those goals, Tikhonova has scheduled the exhibit “WITNESS: Picturing Social Justice,” which will run Sept. 27 to Oct. 9 at the gallery in the Visual Arts Building.

“Socially engaged art has become a significant force in the art world. I share this commitment,” she said. “I want to bring this same conversation to Orlando. ‘Witness’ is our first step in building a community of artists and audience dedicated to social change.”

The two-week exhibit will present the works of three photographers from the UCF community: Sue Thompson, Keith Kovach and Rama Masri Zada. Each engages global politics in a different manner:

  • Thompson, a Winter Springs documentary photographer and UCF alumna, travels to areas in crisis with a commitment to record the events that will become history. Her focus is on the people, their personal dignity and circumstances. To be shown is a selection of her photographs that feature peace activists, as well as intimate portraits of the people who are suffering from a lack of peace.
  • Kovach teaches photography in the School of Visual Arts & Design and has been a Fulbright scholar in Vienna, where he shot the photographs to be on view at the exhibit, such as Nazi concrete bunkers and cannon towers from World War II. The towers are some of the most accessible anti-war memorials.
  • Masri Zada, who is from Syria, is a student in the MFA film program. She will present two short animations: No Birds Flying Outside,” about the suffering of Syrian women refugees, and “Room 13,” which recounts a woman’s examination conducted by a male prison officer. Both films were shot with an iPhone.
  • “I believe that art speaks about political and social issues unlike any other means of communication,” Tikhonova said. “The arts can reach deeply into our emotions and move us to respond to social ills far more powerfully than politicians or newspapers.”

    The gallery director said she hopes to have more upcoming exhibitions that talk about art as a powerful tool to effect change in our society.

    “We want our SVAD students to expand their vision beyond family and friends and landscapes. We will encourage them to see that it is their responsibility as artists to embrace the needs of the global community,” she said.

    Tikhonova said she also has been motivated by the work of Nina Steich, founder of the Global Peace Film Festival based in Central Florida. “Witness” is running in conjunction with this year’s Sept. 28-Oct. 4 film festival.  

    In the past decade, Steich has worked to raise awareness of the horrors of war and honor the peacemakers through films that entertain and engage viewers with their humanity, realism, and value as works of art and political challenges.

    “Like Nina, I care deeply about the arts and their ability to reveal new understandings of political and social issues,” Tikhonova said. “Film and visual art complement each other.”

    Another component of “Witness” will be an Oct. 8 reception and an awareness program about campus sexual assault.

    The reception at the gallery will begin at 6 p.m.

    At 7 p.m., the play “Keep Her Safe” will be presented by Theatre UCF, and MFA acting students Madelyn James and Maddie Tarbox will perform a rendition of “The Goddess Diaries,” directed by acting professor Julia Listengarten. The event will be moderated by Sheri Heitker Dixon, executive director of Keep Her Safe, a private initiative to help keep women on campus safe from sexual assault.

    The gallery will be open 1-5 p.m. Sept. 27 for the opening of “Witness.” Gallery hours for the exhibit will then be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.