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Professor Johanna Foster’s Art Work Featured in ‘Women Pathmakers’ Exhibit

Charlane Oliver

The artwork of Johanna Foster, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology,  is currently being featured at the Euphrat Museum of Art at DeAnza College in Cupertino, California. The “Women Pathmakers” exhibit commemorates the 100th year of women’s suffrage and is on display through March 12 

Foster’s works include portraits of freedom fighters Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Charlane Oliver, and are featured as part of an interactive installation on voting rights, titled “Suffragists Tea Parties,” by sociologist, visual artist and documentarian Jen Myhre, Ph.D.

Foster became involved in the project when her long-time colleague and friend Myhre began designing and conceptualizing different ways of bringing the black suffragist social issue to light. She was looking to represent black women leaders in the installation project, and in a way that could symbolize and talk back to white suffragists’ racism and the marginalization of black women leaders, not only in the first wave women’s movement, but also in subsequent waves, including contemporary activism. 

Foster added, “Being part of this exhibit has been so exciting for me as it has given me a forum to honor some of my personal heroes, and to also pay homage to women who were and are squarely within the social ethics tradition of sociology.” 

The subjects of her paintings bring the once silenced women of color to the forefrontFoster notes, “Ida B. Wells-Barnett was a founding sociologist who, like other women and men of color in our discipline, had been written out of the historical record for decades, despite her phenomenal work to end lynching in America. The same is true for powerhouse civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer who exemplifies the best in applying sociology in the community organizing tradition. And as someone who studies mass incarceration as a major contemporary ethical issue, the opportunity to paint Charlane Oliver, who has paved the way to end felony disenfranchisement in Tennessee, was really special.”  

Fannie Lou Hamer

Some of Foster’s past work includes a mural on campus, “Out of the Classroom and into the Streets,” commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Monmouth and the history of the university’s student activism. Foster explainedLike sociology, art can provide a counter-narrative to dominant ideologies, can provoke us to question what we take for granted as right and good, can make visible the people and stories that have been marginalized, and can empower people to take action for a more ethical world. 

Foster also serves as the Helen McMurray Bennett Endowed Chair in Social Ethics since January 2019, where she works to elevate the discussion on campus and in the wider community of what constitutes a “good society.” 

This can be done through data and analysis provided by the social sciences, the insights of philosophy, or the power of visual and performing arts, Foster explains. “My job is to help encourage our students to consider the many avenues open to them to contribute to an expansion of democracy and a just world. Also, part of my job is working to ensure that Monmouth University is on the larger national map as a place where people know that faculty and students here are seriously committed to addressing the pressing social and ethical issues of our time.” 

Foster plans to attend the exhibit reception in February. For more information, visit deanza.edu/euphrat/exhibitions.html.