PhotoSoc’s ‘Roots’

Some people travel thousands of miles to come to study at St Andrews. PhotoSoc have successfully squeezed the sum of those miles into the union this week for their latest exhibition, ‘Roots’. The aim was to showcase the diversity of the student body here in St Andrews. The exhibition formed something of a launch event for Social Justice Week, intended to celebrate the many backgrounds and cultures present in St Andrews and to subsequently raise awareness of issues of social justice affecting those worldwide. 

Photographers submitted their snaps from the world over, each selection offering a small insight into the background and culture of the photographer: an old family photo, a busy city marketplace, a vibrant festival. While I was aware of the distance some have come, I was struck by the variety of places in which people here have roots. Literally every part of the globe was covered.

The twin concepts of ‘Roots’ and social justice were connected as two students gave readings of poems written about their own backgrounds and subsequent experiences. Both, besides featuring incredible word-play, were extremely thought-provoking.   

Perhaps the most impressive part of the exhibition, though, was the ambitious project to photograph someone from every nation St Andrews students hail from. Seventy of the one hundred and twenty nations students come from were represented on a slideshow and on the pillars throughout the exhibition space, forming its backbone. This added a very personal touch to the exhibition as a whole, emphasising the equal and inclusive nature of social justice.  

Visitors were encouraged to get involved in the exhibition by contributing to the ‘tree’ of social justice, placing a tag on it describing what social justice means to them. Another very clever idea was the world map, where pins could be added to show where in the world St Andreans come from. These interactive elements were an excellent idea, easy and simple ways to involve people, as well as emphasising that social justice issues, in one way or another, affect us all.

Strange as it may sound, the exhibition is typical of St Andrews. The dominant image of the university in the outside world seems to be that of bawdy, boozy rich kids just out for a good time. While it’s no secret many of us enjoy the occasional tipple, this exhibition shows what St Andrews is really like- a true collage of cultures. Yet while cultural diversity at St Andrews is something we’re all aware of, I think it’s fair to say it’s something that we don’t capitalise on. SRC member for Ethic Minorities, Hibak Mohamud, expressed concern that when people come to St Andrews, they tend to ‘stick to what they know, and keep to their own.’

Hopefully ‘Roots’ can do something to change that, by helping us build greater cohesion in our community. In celebrating the diversity of our microcosmic society, we can together affect greater social change.  

The exhibition is on display until the end of November, along the corridor on the top floor of the union.

Images courtesy of Qi Tian. Compiled by Laura Francis.