(under construction—to be continued—comments welcomed)
City College of San Francisco houses two exceptional collections of statues, one displayed in the cafeteria, and the other stored in an ancient bungalow, periodically trundled out for display (see a quick video introduction on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpXuKBeuERU ). The first collection, called the Missing Students, is made of fiberglass, and the other, called Student Success Stories, is made of soft canvas stuffed with a synthetic cottony substance. Produced over the past decade by a statewide coalition of art students and community college staff to advocate for better state funding, these statues live out a ghostly existence akin to the students they represent: students who aspire toward scholarship and professionalism, but have largely missed the boat of the U.S.S. Meritocracy (not to condescend: I missed it myself, and attended community college in my mid-twenties).
The statues are awkward for community college students to observe and respond to because they materialize their downtrodden “loser” status in a supposedly classless society. Whereas academically ambitious high school students and elite college undergraduates like to cheer and boast, strut their stuff, and indulge in various kinds of trophy-style self-representations, community college students rarely deem themselves worthy of the memorializing genre of the human statue.
The “Missing Students,” made of durable fiberglass, for the last couple of years have resided on carts in the cafeteria, off in the back, sometimes even stowed behind movable bulletin boards. Between the Art department, the Hotel/ Restaurant faculty, and until recently, perhaps an administrator, there has been a quiet conspiracy to keep them on display, to not allow these statues to be trashed, sold, or given away. But they are not displayed as art in a gallery, and have no signage explaining their presence. The only other permanent display is the flags of a hundred or so nations hanging from the ceiling, obviously to symbolize the school’s commitment to multiculturalism. The meaning of the Missing Students is more opaque. They are clustered together in mute witness while the living students eat, talk, and study under them. Faceless, they stoop forward slightly. Many students don’t bother to inspect them, but sense that they are like mourners at a funeral, not there to either celebrate or encourage.