For graduating studio art majors, Kenyon’s Annual Senior Student Exhibition is a critical rite of passage. The showcase, which is hosted in the Gund Gallery every spring, is the culmination of the studio art senior exercise. It provides an opportunity for the participating students to display the end results of a year’s work and for the rest of the Kenyon community to engage with and appreciate this work.
This year, the showcase featured work from 16 students. It is one of three exhibitions currently on display in the Buchwald-Wright Gallery; the other two are Claudia Esslinger’s video installation The (Snow) Migrant and a selection of pieces from the Gund Gallery Collection that relate to the recent exhibition Sympathy for the Translator. The choice to display these three exhibitions alongside each other serves to legitimize the student artists’ projects, encouraging viewers to engage with them in the same way they would engage with work in any museum.
Seeing their own work displayed alongside that of established career artists was a deeply emotional experience for some of the students. “It made me feel like my artwork was being taken seriously and all of this hard work was something that people really cared about,” said Lucy Adams ’23. Her project, titled Cascadia, is a series of seven oil paintings that portray a fictional future world that has been destroyed by a tsunami. The series explores the themes of reality, dreams and what it means to exist in the world. Adams told the Collegian that seeing her paintings on the walls of a gallery has given her the confidence to pursue art as a career post-graduation.
However, the showcase is much more than just a chance to exhibit work; for the students, the journey was as important as the destination. “Through our year-long art seminar, the senior majors have gotten to know each other on an intimate level,” Maya Sapsford ’23 wrote in an email to the Collegian. “I am so proud to see everyone’s work installed, as I have been able to witness the journey closely.” Sapsford’s contribution to the exhibition, a series of six mixed-media works called Third Culture, documents her experience growing up in a Japanese American household and being unable to relate to depictions of the traditional family she saw in American media.
Several other students explored similar themes of struggling with personal and cultural identity. Beneath the Surface, a hanging sculpture of wood, leather and twine by Caroline James ’23, was inspired by James’ fear of expressing her feelings as a bisexual woman. Likewise, Stephanie Nyarko ’23 used synthetic hair to create a sculpture entitled Tender Headed, which symbolizes their experience as a Black immigrant child and the disconnect they felt from their white peers growing up.
Unsurprisingly, another common theme among the projects was the passage of time — the motifs of childhood, memory and impermanence permeated the artworks. With graduation right around the corner, growing up was clearly on the seniors’ minds, and the titles of their pieces reflect this: Time Through Wire (Ryan O’Leary ’23), To “forget” (Liliana Tiger McEnerney ’23) and Whispers of the Past (Bella Kern ’23), among others.
This is a bittersweet time for the Class of 2023; the prospect of entering the so-called “real world” is exciting, but it also means saying goodbye to the Kenyon community and the place they’ve called home for the past four years (give or take a global pandemic). For the senior art majors, the Annual Senior Student Exhibition has been the perfect swan song. As Sapsford put it: “These are ideas I’ve been developing for months if not years, and seeing them all come together in such a beautiful and professional space is truly an honor.”
The students’ work will be on display through May 20.
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