‘1968: Fifty Years On’

Arts Faculty Share their Work on Activism, Art, and Upheaval in 1968

When Kate Bredeson, Associate Professor of Theatre, realized that she was not the only member of Reed’s arts faculty conducting research into the cultural and historical significance of 1968, she was surprised she hadn’t heard about it sooner. “For whatever reason, those of us in the arts just don’t get to share our research with each other very often,” she told the Quest, laughing. “But when we learned about this common topic, especially with the fifty year anniversary right around the corner, now seemed like a great time to share with each other and everybody else who might be interested.” So with the help of Associate Professor of Music Mark Burford, Bredeson organized a special gathering and discussion in the spirit of scholarly collaboration: “1968: Fifty Years On.”

1968 was a year of significant social upheaval, full of student protests and artistic innovation. People were taking over theaters, courthouses, town halls, and other public venues, and taking to the streets to protest everything from income inequality to racial prejudice to the Vietnam War. Reed faculty Kate Bredeson, Victoria Fortuna, William Diebold, and Kris Cohen are all currently working in this period and presented on the subject, its contemporary proceedings, and its impacts last Saturday, September 8, with Mark Burford moderating discussions.

Kate Bredeson began the day’s discussion with the opening paragraph from her book Occupying the Stage: the Theater of May ‘68, which will be released by Northwestern University Press this coming November. In this work, Professor Bredeson explores the social and political atmosphere that led protesting students to take to the stage during the turbulence of May 1968 in France. These students took their social ideals to the actual stage just as much as the political one: many student productions focused on student poverty and inequity between students from rich families and those from lower-class backgrounds. Occupying the Stage is Professor Bredeson’s first book, and will be followed shortly by her second work, A Lifetime of Resistance: the Diaries of Judith Malina, 1947-2015.

Next, Victoria Fortuna, following the theme of 1968 as turning point, presented work from her paper on Ana Kamien, a self-titled performance by a Buenos Aires dancer and student in 1968, working in modernism and avant-garde dance against a backdrop of political unrest and war. Through Kamien’s performance and others like it, according to Professor Fortuna, young artists in Buenos Aires were able to express their anger at the systemic issues in Buenos Aires’s society and government through an accessible, and very public, medium.

Kris Cohen and William Diebold’s projects both pertained to legacies of 1968 and their impact on events of later years. Professor Diebold wrote about the connections between the activity and notoriety of Germany’s Red Army Faction and an unexpectedly popular exhibit of medieval German art in 1974, and Professor Cohen examined the connections between the modern graphical user interface on personal computers and the work of abstract artists such as Alma Thomas, a black woman working in Washington, D.C. in 1968.

Later in the afternoon, the faculty closed the event with a screening of In the Intense Now, a 2017 film by João Moreira Salles about the events of 1966 China juxtaposed against 1968 protests in France, Czechoslovakia, and Brazil composed of recently recovered archival footage. This jarring and atmospheric piece provided a rare first-hand view into the turbulence of the late 1960’s and closed out the afternoon with a reminder that the day’s topics of discussion were not just history, but very real parts of people’s lives.

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