Artist, portrait subjects stress importance of courage to SU audience

Artist, portrait subjects share tales of courage at SU

Robert Shetterly's “Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizenship" portrait series is on display in Panasci Lounge through Dec. 14.
Published: November 30, 2018
Robert Shetterly
American artist Robert Shetterly sits in for a portrait on Nov. 29, 2018, during his Syracuse visit to talk with students and display the 238 portraits in his exhibit for "Americans Who Tell the Truth." Shetterly wrote the text displayed on this portrait.

“I’m always looking for those kinds of situations where people are standing up for victims. That has become my job to honor people like that and to spread their stories.”

That was artist Robert Shetterly’s mission for the past 18 years. Now, the artist has brought his portrait series “Americans Who Tell The Truth: Models Of Courageous Citizenship”, which highlights citizens who have fought for social justice, to Panasci Lounge at the Schine Student Center. This exhibit marked the first time all 238 art pieces will be displayed publicly in one location.

Shetterly participated in the most recent Tanner Lecture Series as part of the University Lectures at the Setnor Auditorium in Crouse College. However, he did not take the center stage alone. He was joined by two of his subjects for the portrait series: Richard Bowen and Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Faculty Affairs associate provost and law professor LaVonda Reed moderated the panel featuring Shetterly explaining why he decided to pursue a project doing portraits on brave Americans while Bowen and Hanna-Attisha told their stories of courage and perseverance.

Hanna-Attisha rose to fame thanks to her efforts toward eradicating the high levels of lead in the drinking water at Flint, Michigan. The pediatrician said her biggest fear was how this would affect the children in the area and that, despite being constantly told by public officials that her data was incorrect, she knew her numbers represented the children she cared for.

“All of this recognition is so humbling because this was very much my role as a pediatrician, where I have taken an oath to protect children,” Hanna-Attisha said.

Bowen, a former Citigroup vice president at Citigroup who blew the whistle on Citibank’s subprime mortgage practices that contributed to the country’s 2008 financial crisis, said he constantly encourages his students to raise their hands and ask questions.

“There will always be a time when they’ll be asked to do or not to do something that will make them very uncomfortable,” Bowen said.

Artist Robert Shetterly (left) is joined by subject of his portrait series Mona Hanna-Attisha and Richard Bowen and moderator LaVonda Reed for the University Lectures/Tanner Lectures talk in conjunction with Shetterly's "Americans Who Tell the Truth" exhibit.

When asked for how long he plans on continuing to draw portraits of courageous American people, Shetterly said for “as long as I can still paint and feel the passion.” His mission is clear; he wants to inspire more people to do charitable work.

Among the 238 citizens Shetterly has painted so far are Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Mark Twain. And it is obvious why Bowen and Hanna-Attisha join the list.

For Bowen, it all comes down shaping a better place for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“When you see something wrong, don’t accept it. Speak up about it,” he said. “That’s what we’ve got to instill in our young people.”

For her part, Hanna-Attisha, who claimed that what the city of Flint faces daily is a “trauma of betrayal,” mentioned that her family raised her to have a borderless cause.

“If you want to make any change, you have got to care,” she said.

The exhibition will be on display at Panasci Lounge until Dec. 14 and Shetterly said his concern for change was what pushed him into pursuing it.

“The question with courage is, at what level can you live with yourself if you’re not doing anything?” he commented. “And I thought ‘I want to do something for my country, why don’t I do what I do best – paint.”