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Mercy Creates “Black Lives Matter in Art” Course

Beth Gersh-Nesic

Sharing her breadth of art history knowledge both inside and outside of the classroom, Mercy College Adjunct Instructor Beth Gersh-Nesic, Ph.D., raises public awareness of current and historical artists and the cultural implications of their works.

In her role as an instructor, Gersh-Nesic teaches the course “Black Lives Matter in Art” as part of the College’s Global Honors Program, a special academic track that offers students the opportunity to participate in engaging seminar-style classes, unique learning experiences, and co-curricular activities.

In the class, she hosts a series of black arts professionals who contribute to the arts scene in Westchester: curator/social media coach and member of the Clay Art Center’s board E. Patrick Hankin, Executive Director of Art and Culture for the Town of Greenburg Sarah Bracey White and artist/director of Sistaah.org Wilhelmina Obatola Grant-Cooper.  “I hope that by hearing their individual stories and asking questions, my students will learn about what it feels like to be a black person in the arts,” Gersh-Nesic explains.

Grant-Cooper, a cancer survivor and health advocate who encourages art as a way of healing, will facilitate a workshop in Gersh-Nesic’s class that allows students to design their own artistic face masks to express their sense of identity within this challenging “new normal.” Gersh-Nesic plans on holding a virtual exhibition of the students’ masks online, which she hopes will inspire conversations surrounding the intersection of art, the Black Lives Matter movement, and individual identity and agency.

The type of topics and conversations Gersh-Nesic promotes in her classrooms demonstrate how art influences society and society influences art during periods of socio-cultural shifts. These topics do not differ much from her pursuits as a professional in the arts.

Gersh-Nesic’s focus is on André Salmon, a poet, writer and critic from the period of early modernism in France.  He was an intimate of Picasso and part of the revolutionary Cubist movement. She is considered the American expert on Salmon and works with colleagues around the globe to translate from French to English his art criticism and tell his story.

According to Gersh-Nesic, Salmon is “the eyewitness historian for early modern art,” who recorded the accounts of artists, especially the immigrants who came to Paris before World War I, including Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, Kisling and Lipshitz.  Salmon is known for being nondoctrinaire in his writing and an active “connector” among his peers, to their benefit. He even hid the work of his closest friend Moïse Kisling, a Jewish artist, during World War II, fully aware this action might bring the Gestapo to his door, if the deed were discovered.

Gersh-Nesic has lead several projects and publications involving Salmon, including Pablo Picasso and Andre Salmon: The Painter, the Poet and the Portraits, a translation from French to English of an essay by the leading Salmon expert Dr. Jacqueline Gojard, Professor of Literature at the University of Paris III-Sorbonne, which is available for purchase on Amazon.

Her next book, “Pablo Picasso, André Salmon and ‘Young French Art,’” another translation and collaboration with Dr. Gojard, is supported by the Mercy Faculty Development Grant, which has aided Gersh-Nesic in updating its footnotes. She also helps run the André Salmon official website, and recently celebrated her colleagues’ revised Italian translation of Salmon’s book on the Jewish Italian painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, completed in honor of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s death on January 24, 1920.

The translators Professor Franca Bruera and Dr. Marilena Pronesti hosted a Salmon Colloquium at their University of Turin in December 2019. There, Gersh-Nesic presented a paper on Salmon’s support of modernist women artists. Additionally, on February 16, 2021, the Salmon team reunited for a roundtable discussion hosted by the Salmon/Modigliani publisher Nardini Editore on their Facebook page. Gersh-Nesic also writes the André Salmon blog and contributes to the online culture magazine Bonjour Paris.

Gersh-Nesic looks forward to continuing to share Salmon’s legacy with her students to inspire their critical thinking of art and culture, as well as expose her students to current artists who, through their works and activism, walk paths similar to Salmon.