Harvard Innovation Labs and ArtLifting Announce Mural Installation by…
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Harvard Innovation Labs and ArtLifting Announce Mural Installation by Madison Elyse Rubenstein

The mural was created by artist Madison Elyse Rubenstein and sourced through ArtLifting, a former Harvard Innovation Labs venture creating access to the art market for artists impacted by disabilities and housing insecurity.

Four people look at colorful mural on wall
Students stop to take in "Invent, Endure, Outlive Them" during a tour of the i-lab.

Today, the Harvard Innovation Labs has unveiled “Invent, Endure, Outlive Them,” the university innovation center’s first permanent mural installation. The mural was created by artist Madison Elyse Rubenstein and sourced through ArtLifting, a former Harvard Innovation Labs venture creating access to the art market for artists impacted by disabilities and housing insecurity.

When Liz Powers (Harvard College ’10) was a social worker running art groups in Boston shelters and social service centers, she discovered participants were producing extraordinary art but lacked a marketplace to showcase and sell their work. Powers founded ArtLifting out of her dorm room to connect talented underserved artists to professional opportunities.

“Liz joined the Harvard Innovation Labs soon after founding ArtLifting, and has been an incredible member of our community ever since,” said Alexandra Stephens, marketing and communications director at the Harvard Innovation Labs. “Our team has been inspired to see ArtLifting represent 190 artists across the country. We’re truly honored to have Madison Elyse Rubenstein’s work as a permanent installation at the Harvard Innovation Labs; the impact of their piece is stunning.”

Around the age of six, Rubenstein, who is gender-fluid and uses any pronouns, started developing chronic pain and extreme executive dysfunction. Drawing and painting became their tool to create visual representations of what they were experiencing. As a child, art also became Rubenstein’s therapeutic space to process their childhood emotions of feeling restricted by gender norms.

Since I was a child, I have painted how it feels to inhabit my body as a form of self-expression and reflection. I consider artmaking a necessary tool of adaptability, which helps me survive in the world as a disabled person.

Madison Elyse Rubenstein Artist
Artist Madison Elyse Rubenstein in front of their painting hung on the wall

Rubenstein’s intricate, colorful art leaves the viewer captivated all while exploring important topics of the body, gender, and disability. In describing the meaning behind “Invent, Endure, Outlive Them”, Rubenstein shares the title is “inspired by an old Yiddish song born from anti-fascist Jewish resistance,” explaining:

“In 1939, a group of Hasidic Jews from the Polish city of Lublin were backed up against barbed wire and ordered to sing to their own execution. One of the men improvised: ‘Mir veln zey iberlebn, iberlebn, iberlebn’ — ‘We will outlive them.’ Instantly the song took hold of the Jews, until it activated them into a stormy and feverish dance. The commander at first laughed but then realized they weren’t following his orders; they were subverting his demands and defeating him. The Jews wouldn’t stop when ordered, even when the troops charged at them. Most of those Jews lost their lives that day but some lived to tell this story of resistance.

I often pull from my experience and history as a Jewish person to persevere in spite of living in a world that is not built to accommodate my disabilities. The title for me reads as a to-do list for survival: ‘Invent’ new worlds through art, ‘Endure’ my experience living in a broken society, and ‘Outlive’ those that would prefer I give up. There are many obstacles and limitations I face as a disabled person, but what I know to be unshakable is my passion for justice, my joy for art, and the perseverance of my lineage.”

This painting was created with a unique approach focusing on the interplay between colors and their surroundings. Rubenstein was intrigued by the way that colors can appear to vibrate, change, come forward, or recede in space depending on what other colors are in their vicinity. In addition to this exploration of color, Rubenstein also incorporated a variety of different brush strokes and mark-making techniques to create a sense of frenetic activity within the painting. Despite this energetic approach, the painting remains organized and cohesive, with each element working together to create a larger whole. Overall, Rubenstein’s approach to this artwork demonstrates a keen eye for detail and a willingness to experiment with different techniques to achieve a unique and engaging final piece.

two men install the mural decal on the wall with a ladder

“Invent, Endure, Outlive Them” was installed in the Harvard Innovation Labs in February 2024, and unveiled to the Harvard Innovation Labs community during spring orientation for the university innovation center’s more than 1,600 student members.

I believe artmaking to be a vital tool in reinventing and conceiving a better world because it necessitates creative thinking and problem-solving. In the context of art, innovation, and disability, disabled folks are constantly dreaming and reinventing the world to create a reality in which we can survive. We have a greater capacity than our able-bodied peers to conceive of more radical and imaginative forms of community care. Madison Elyse Rubenstein

In reflecting on how they hope members of the Harvard Innovation Labs community will interact with the mural, Rubenstein adds, “One of my favorite things about having my art viewed by people outside of my studio is the wide spectrum of interpretation, especially with abstract art. I hope that whatever my piece activates in an individual, that it inspires their own creative impulses through conversations, self-reflection, innovation, and maybe even a little artmaking of their own.”

Learn more about ArtLifting artists and projects at artlifting.com, on LinkedIn, and on Instagram.

Follow Madison Elyse Rubenstein and learn more about their practice on the ArtLifting website, Instagram, or at MadisonElyseRubenstein.com.