Brenda Bancel

Holding Our Differences Tenderly

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Holding Differences Tenderly ©2018

As an artist, I came to the Harvard Divinity School for inspiration. I wanted to be better informed about the things that are important to me. I spent the last two years here as a special student. At orientation, the school chaplain, Kerry Maloney said, “We are here to dilute misery in the world.” I love the use of the word “dilute.” I often feel so heavy with all of the complicated issues in the world that I don’t know where to start.
But start we must.

I was very fortunate that most of my teachers allowed me to express my learning through my camera. My finals were titled: “Rebranding the Veil”, for Susanna Drake’s class, "The Veil in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam”. In Michael Jackson’s class, “Art and Religion,” I did work on, ”America’s Quest for Utopia,” and for Ali Asani’s Islam class, I did a blog called, “All We Need is Love”. However, most of the work in this show came out of Diane Moore’s class on, “Bridges to Just Peace”.

I was fascinated that on the first day, when asked, “Why did we take this course,” some students said, “I’m afraid of the police,” and, “I’m afraid of white people,” and, someone else told me one day, “I think all business people are corrupt.” Where did they get these ideas and why? Why was I there? To be honest, after September 11th, I was afraid of Muslims.

Superwoman  © 2018 Brenda Bancel

Superwoman © 2018 Brenda Bancel

In class, we learned that all people are situated and identities are constructed. Given this, we all have assumptions about people. Our environments, the media we are exposed to, our nationalities and culture play roles in how we perceive others.

My photography focuses on disrupting our assumptions of people. We need to be shaken out of our thinking and stop perpetuating ideas from our past. We have to be careful of stereotypes, because they rob us of our dignity.

I also developed work to express how our need to make everyone the same, is unreasonable. We are not a homogeneous society. We need to deal deeply with our differences.

This concept was most evident while working on a class project for Professor Moore when she asked us to reach out weekly to someone politically opposite of ourselves. Many times, I was upset by my partner’s values, but I had to sit in my discomfort, understand her differences and respectfully disagree.

Most importantly, through this tough class exercise, we moved from labeling each other with strong harsh names such as, “homophobic” and “racist” to softer words like, “traditional” and “unsure”. With these later words, it’s much easier to find common ground and have a constructive conversation.

Ironing Differences  © 2018 Brenda Bancel

Ironing Differences © 2018 Brenda Bancel

As we become more and more a social media society, we are in danger of staying in our tribes, merely reinforcing our own views.
Social media is an easy way to spread rage. But when you are in front of someone, we always look for understanding, and we are much more compassionate. We need to make time and have patience to understand people that are different than us. We need more places where we come together and seek understanding and empathy.

Professor Moore says, “Where real dialogue happens is when we can combine faith, hope, love, humility and critical thinking”.
My great desire is that this work can foster that environment. I want to encourage people to step out of their skin and push against their edges. This is what we need to do to weave together society and to share in the collective humanity of this world.

I want to express my gratitude to the Harvard Divinity School for all of the knowledge and goodness they filled me with for two years.
I wish the rest of the world functioned in the same way I feel surrounded by the amazing people within this school. But since I can’t stay forever, I will do my part to go out and dilute misery in the world.

Blending In  © 2018 Brenda Bancel

Blending In © 2018 Brenda Bancel



Hijab/ Social Currency                                                          Black Lives Matter/Transgender                                                       Democrat/Republican

Don't Disappear   ©2018 Brenda Bancel

Don't Disappear  ©2018 Brenda Bancel

This work is available as a traveling exhibition. Please inquire.

To purchase images from this collection visit HERE

Additional images in this exhibition

I'd Walk with Them                                                       by Toni Marie Gomes -  Take 5 Student    ©2015

I like playing with images of people who inspire me.  These include my family who have been with me since I was born and who never give up on me.  I like playing with photographs of people who give me courage and inspire me to become who I want to be.  I also want to honor people have paved the way for my future.  I want them to know, I would have been with them in their struggle.  I am doing all I can to further their work and be a good role model in the world. 

Hoodie                                                                                                by Roody Jean Louis   Take 5 Student   © 2016 

Hoodie                                                                                               by Roody Jean Louis   Take 5 Student   © 2016 

I think people will see a kid in a hoodie and automatically think he’s a bad kid or that he is up to trouble. I had to understand this from the shooting of Treyvon Martin.

I’m just a kid who’s shy and when you get to know me, I’m still shy. I hide under my hoodie, because I’m just not ready to put myself out there yet.

I also live in a tough neighborhood.I need to act tough to protect myself.
But I’m not a bad kid. I’m not getting into trouble.



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