Linguistics Student Wins at Social Justice Art Festival

Diana Cisneros, a junior majoring in Linguistics, won the Most Out-Of-The-Box Award at MSU’s fifth annual Social Justice Art Festival (SJAF) for her painting, titled Mikia Nemi Tunal Tit (The Fire of the Sun Is Dying).

The Most Out-of-the-Box Award is given to the artist or performer with the most unique artistic concept or creative medium. The winning piece is selected by the SJAF committee based on originality, effort, level of risk, level of artistry, and overall quality of work. The committee also considers how the artist communicates their artistic vision in relation to social justice starting from the application process through the completion of the two-day festival.

Diana Cisneros

Mikia Nemi Tunal Tit (The Fire of the Sun Is Dying) was born from memories of an injustice Cisneros’s family told her about years ago. It was the story of the Sumpul River massacre, which took place May 14, 1980, where about 600 Indigenous Nawat people were brutally slaughtered by the Honduran and Salvadorian governments, most of them women, children, and elders.

“When I was younger, it was very important for my family that I learned these stories. I remember sitting in the kitchen and my family just crying while they told me this story because it’s so unjust,” Cisneros said. “What happened to the people? To this day both governments still deny responsibility.”

“A lot of people said, ‘oh, I didn’t know the story.’ It was nice that people cared and were willing to listen and learn.”

Diana Cisneros

Cisneros translated this injustice into a vivid, surreal painting, blending childhood memories with the story passed down by her family. In her painting, a bleeding heart hovering over the landscape represents the massacred Nawat people.

“It just felt right to do the heart because the people are the heart of the land and you’re literally killing them,” Cisneros said.

Her abstract approach also allowed Cisneros to connect to Nawat culture. In the painting, the symbols placed near the bottom are called Ollin, which represent the balance of nature. The four points indicate the four cardinal points, which correspond to different elements and which represent the Nawat people.

The Mikia Nemi Tunal Tit (The Fire of the Sun Is Dying) painting by Diana Cisneros.

“That day the balance was broken, so that’s why some of the Ollin are broken,” Cisneros said.

Cisneros hopes that her painting and subsequent award help bring awareness to an injustice that many people are unaware of.

“A lot of people said, ‘oh, I didn’t know the story,’” she said. “It was nice that people cared and were willing to listen and learn.”

MSU’s Social Justice Art Festival is a partnership among many units and colleges across campus, including James Madison College, the Residential College for Arts and Humanities, and Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives as well as the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. The festival provided a platform for students to use their art as a medium to promote social justice and to encourage dialogue across the MSU community.