A student looks at the La Pelea exhibit in the Institute for the Humanities Gallery November 14. Grace Lahti/Daily. Buy this photo.

On Nov. 2, the Institute for the Humanities at the University of Michigan unveiled La Pelea (The Fight), a new installation by Mexican artist Salvador Diaz. Tucked in the front corner of the building located on 202 South Thayer Street, the 46-foot long circular mural allows visitors to experience a variety of perspectives involved in a street fight by standing in the center of a canvas that extends all the way around the viewer.

Diaz came to Ann Arbor to unveil the installation and to attend the opening reception held on the night of Nov. 2. Select U-M students enrolled in Spanish courses had the opportunity to visit the installation during its opening week and engage with Diaz himself. The 360° piece features different participants in the scene at all angles, ranging from those involved in the fight, bystanders and those actively attempting to stop others from getting involved. With loose dirt lining the floor beneath the canvas, the viewer is drawn into the scene.

Amanda Krugliak, director of the Institute for the Humanities Gallery and assistant director for creative programming, spoke with The Michigan Daily about the immersive nature of the piece.

“When it’s installed, (the piece) takes up a 20 x 20 foot gallery, so it really envelops the whole space,” Krugliak said. “Conceptually, the piece is meant to consider versions of a narrative or all of the different ways we come to a story and what exactly happened … Depending on whether you’re in the crowd or whether you’re in the middle, that really changes the way that we might experience a story or something that happens.”

Jacob Napier, gallery coordinator at the Institute for the Humanities, described the installation as “a spectacle” that engages a multitude of sensory dimensions. Napier said the installation feels as though it has become part of the room.

“If you spin around and just take everything in … it does feel like there’s a lot more going on, like the smell of the dirt, the feeling of being surrounded by all those people (and) the very faint light makes it all come together,” Napier said. “There are even ruffles in the canvas to give a little more dimension to certain people being actually physically closer up to you than the background people.”

Diaz, who recently became a professor at the University of Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico, said it has been a “really good experience” working with the Institute for the Humanities and appreciated the opportunities afforded by the Institute to engage with students on campus. The Institute allows community members to learn about art from cultures around the world.

Diaz said he wants the piece to make the spectator feel like the protagonist of the work. The act of visiting the installation does not solely involve viewing the images on the canvas, Diaz said but asks the viewer to consider their own role within the piece.

“For me, what’s important is to be part of the art and to show a different way to communicate … using a painting,” Diaz said. “Sometimes we forget to have a moment with ourselves to think about the social ideas or political ideas or just aesthetics (of a piece).”

LSA senior Madison Katrina Flood interns at the Institute for the Humanities. She said the work highlights power dynamics by allowing the viewer to orient themselves within the context of the fight.

“The gallery viewer becomes the beheld instead of the beholder, and I think it offers a reflection on the relationship between power dynamics,” Flood said. “The painting and its 360° view places the viewer within the center of a partial perspective or a situated knowledge of power.”

Napier told The Daily about the positive experience he had working with Diaz and how relationships come through in his work.

“I could really tell how much interpersonal connections are important to him and how this sense of community I think lives with him, where it’s really important to see people come together and be connected and just be alive together,” Napier said. “I think that really comes across in his painting as much as it does in him as a warm and welcoming individual.”

As campus returns to a new sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic, this form of installation provides its visitors with a multi-dimensional form of artistic, cultural and personal engagement. Krugliak cited this form of engagement as a primary reason for members of the community to visit the installation.

“I think that (the installation is) just a great sensory experience,” Krugliak said. “After a time, that has felt like we’ve had little sensory experiences, it feels just for its own sake, a wonderful, wonderful thing to engage with.”

Some students enrolled in Spanish classes at the University had the opportunity to speak with Diaz in his native language about his art, including the installation.

LSA and Business freshman Paighton Gimotty visited the installation with her Spanish 277 class on Nov. 4 to discuss the work with Diaz in Spanish. Gimotty said speaking with Diaz  encouraged her to think critically about how her experiences impact her perspective on the installation and her everyday life

“He asked us to do two things. He asked us to write down ‘la meta de la vida,’ which (means) ‘the goal of your life,’ and then he also asked us to write down what we think the greatest struggle of humanity is,” Gimotty said.

Gimotty said every one of her classmates had a different answer to these questions, informed by their interests, career aspirations and upbringing. Students shared their responses in Spanish and English, fostering an academically and culturally enriching environment for bilingual education.

For Krugliak, this bilingual engagement became another exciting aspect of curating the installation.

“A lot of times, here we are, we become accustomed to just communicating in our own language in a way that’s easy for us,” Krugliak said. “To really have a piece that connected the Institute to other classes and other departments and where students felt that they belonged and they didn’t have to make an adjustment, to be able to have that engagement, made me remember how important it is that it shouldn’t be just in one building or just in one space.”

Napier said U-M students often discover the exhibits at the Institute for the Humanities on a whim while walking to class. However, he hopes installations such as Diaz’s will bring students to the Institute more regularly.

“We’re in a weird spot,” Napier said. “It’s not like the UMMA where you go into a museum, expecting to go into a museum. A lot of people come into this gallery on the way to class, on the way to (visit) an office or professor. It’s not the same kind of space … So I hope that in one way, people who wouldn’t necessarily have been much of art-goers beforehand or more interested in seeing what is going on around here, both in the Institute and anywhere else on campus, anywhere else in the community and the world around them.”

Members of the Ann Arbor community can visit the installation at the Institute for the Humanities every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Dec. 9.

Daily News Staff Reporter Alexandra Vena can be reached at alexvena@umich.edu.