Art: No Evil Project – Making an impact one photo at a time
When Troy Thompson set out to make a statement, he had no idea just what a huge impact he would make in the community – and it all started with a picture.
Nearly everyone is familiar with the See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil monkeys. Troy took that idea and began photographing people in the three monkey poses. Then, he amped it up by asking his subjects to choose for themselves three labels of who and what they believe they are. Choices can be anything, from a racial term to a job, a religion to a character trait, and more. These labels are placed under the photos, causing the audience to see beyond the limitations of what it expects those labels to mean. It is an experiment in growth and identity, and it is making a change for the better.
“It’s about difference … and being OK with difference. This world should not be a melting pot, where everyone assimilates into one identity. Our differences are what make us unique individuals, and they should be celebrated. People should not be afraid of those differences. It shouldn’t be the case where someone hears the term ‘Muslim’ and automatically associates it with violence, but that is what has happened. How do we change that? The labels themselves are neutral,” Thompson said.
Lately, Thompson has been asked to take the idea for this project to classrooms, most recently at Worcester’s own North High School. Asking the students to participate in the photos or stand in certain parts of the room if they identify with certain labels has proven an excellent point and may even be a turning point in the anti-bullying campaign.
“Students see their good friends acknowledging labels on the other side of the room, and it surprises them. They see people they may have judged one way identifying with something that they have in common. This generation is extremely self-aware, but not necessarily aware of where other people identify. It’s more than a lesson in tolerance. People should not feel the need to hide behind their labels,” Thompson said.
Understanding that a label is a word and that the word is not “evil” is a feat in a society filled with stereotypes and pressure to be “politically correct,” where people have become afraid to embrace the beauty of our differences. Thompson said, for example, people are often hesitant to call his wife “black,” even though it is a label that she would use to describe herself.
Breaking down these stereotypes is one of the biggest things that the No Evil Project accomplishes. When people can openly choose the words that define them, regardless of what stereotype may be associated with that label, we have taken a step forward. When people can look at the labels people choose to define themselves and not feel shocked or amazed, we have taken a giant leap.
The project starts conversations. Not only are the subjects in the photos asked to assign labels to themselves, they are also asked to note a good deed they have done or how they contribute to society. This way, others can see that people can do good in many different ways, no matter what their labels.
In 2011, Pulse interviewed Thompson when the project was just a few months old. Since that time, it has grown exponentially, and the original goal (hanging a collage with 250 people) has not only come to fruition, but has gone far above and beyond that number. On April 30, the opening reception for Thompson’s newest exhibit took place, featuring nearly 1,500 subjects on 91 banners in the No Evil Project’s photo display at the Denholm Building.
Previous and existing exhibits include the Hanover Theatre, Dean College, Nichols College and Wachusett Regional High School. To learn more about and participate in the No Evil Project, visit noevilproject.com or facebook.com/noevilproject.
By Jennifer Russo