Forging New Paths: How Art Shifts Public Consciousness

June 26, 2020

“Geography is commonly misunderstood,” says Margaret Marietta Ramírez, SFU’s latest human geographer. “It is provocative. It pushes boundaries, and it offers a multitude of ways to understand social problems. Geography offers a deep historical and spatial understanding of where we are and how we got here.”

In September, Ramírez joined the Faculty of Environment’s Department of Geography as an assistant professor. She holds degrees in geography-archive from the University of Washington (PhD and MA) and a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (BA) from the University of California, Berkeley.

Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, often regarded as one of the most diverse areas in the US, Ramírez’s interest in social change started at a young age. Growing up in a bicultural household, she found comfort in spaces that challenged cultural and racial binaries.

“There’s something about living in-between the margins that’s made me comfortable with blurring boundaries,” says Ramírez. “Our society constructs a binary between what is considered academic and what is not, and I am invested in blurring this line. I want to deconstruct the barriers that have made academia an exclusionary space, build paths for those who come after me, and make space for those who are traditionally marginalized.”

In her work, Ramírez examines how art can be used as a catalyst for social change. For example, how Black and Latinx artists in the Bay Area, who disproportionately feel the effects of social issues like the housing crisis, can raise the awareness of social and political inequalities. Art becomes a tool for marginalized groups to share their lived experiences. As Ramírez explains, “Art has the ability to provoke shifts in consciousness – I am interested in what political possibilities are activated through art.”

Prior to joining SFU, Ramírez held positions at Stanford University and San Francisco State University. Her work has been published in Antipode, Environment & Planning D, Political Geography, and Planning Theory & Practice.