UAM's Annual School of Art Exhibition, INSIGHTS an Outstandingly Confrontational Show

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Photos by Asia Morris

To say that a student has less a handle on what contemporary art is, compared to an established artist, or that a student can’t yet be deemed an established artist because they are, indeed a student, are two interesting concepts expertly combated by the work on display at Insights, the annual School of Art exhibition at the University Art Museum (UAM) at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

Stepping through the grand outdoor plaza of the UAM into the exhibition is like forgetting you’re on a campus. Or, perhaps, it strikes a visitor as worth considering that the CSULB College of the Arts is aptly honing some of the most inquisitive, fearless and creative young artists of their generation to confront viewers with their own pointed interpretations of our culture today.

Machine guns, wolves, giant pearl necklaces, Kim Kardashian’s cleavage, dead rats and a beta fish are just a few of the bizarre symbols used to paint a bigger picture in Insights.

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Christina Alegria, interim curator of education for the UAM, noted that those who have seen Insights already have commented on the particular strength of this year’s show. She said this year's student exhibition artists created work that was both "personally and culturally relevant." 

“From a sensitive awareness of the misappropriation of cultural and spiritual images and objects, to a relational piece that created a dialog about the value of money and power, to a print and textile based piece that explored the commodification of women, these artists created thoughtful, intelligent and meticulously crafted artwork that lived up to the name of the exhibition's title of Insights," Alegria said. 

Each year on a chosen date, students are asked to bring in the works they want considered for the Insights showcase. Each discipline then judges their own students’ work. For example, the sculpture faculty judges the sculpture pieces to choose which works will be shown. Occasionally, as was the case for this year’s exhibition, outside guests will be asked to assist during the judging.

Approximately $50,000 in scholarships and purchase awards are given to the students based on heavy deliberation by the School of Art Scholarship committee, the faculty of specific disciplines and the donor’s instructions.

“[Insights] is unusual in that students at art colleges are not usually given the opportunity to present in an accredited museum,” said Shefali Mistry, public relations and marketing coordinator at the UAM. “This is often their first professional show.”

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B. Olivia Sy is a BFA Graphic Design major set to graduate next spring. She spoke to the Post about Fashion Statement (pictured above), a striking collaboration between students Ariadna Vasquez, Sarah Beltran and Erika Yoko about cultural appropriation. Sy said the piece “became bigger than ourselves.” It received the President’s Purchase Award, which typically goes to an individual artist in the exhibition.

The purchase awards are determined by the president of the university, the provost and dean of the College of the Arts and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) who survey the exhibition every year to select an artwork to purchase and then display on campus. ASI’s purchases are always on display in the University Student Union, for example.

“I feel incredibly proud of my group,” said Sy. “We couldn't have made it happen so successfully without each other and I think that's the beauty in this.”

Fashion Statement is a layered concept and implies, according to Sy, “the white-washing that occurs when the fashion industry, let alone people who are not descended from a certain culture, abstracts and ultimately erases the meaning behind a cultural dress, item, or concept.”

The word “Fashion” is purposefully crossed through with a line as the “cherry on top” to the work’s theme of combating the dilution of traditional cultural dress.

“Also, I hope generally that viewers who have worn headdresses or worn henna can understand that blindly doing so perpetuates this norm to treat cultures — and groups of people — as degraded costumes, and that is never, ever okay,” said Sy.

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Alyssa Bierce who created the sculptural installation Flower! Blossom! Bloom! (pictured above) just finished her fifth and final year of her Photography BFA at CSULB. She created the piece last year as an expanding body of work, she said, “that deals with the metaphor of the flower and how that, and other infantilizing language, follows girls and women through their lives - from childhood, through puberty, to adulthood.”

If you choose to visit Insights this week and happen to look closely enough at Flower! Blossom! Bloom!, Kim Kardashian’s cleavage and Emma Stone’s face may just pop uncannily out at you among a slew of other pieced together body parts. It’s a visual language constructed by Bierce to complicate how her viewers will relate to commercial imagery.

For Bierce, having her work showcased in the revered student exhibition is bittersweet, since she held her first job at the UAM her freshman and sophomore years.

“[...] so to leave this stage of my education and to get to take part in an exhibition there has been a real poetic curtain drop,” she said. “In general it's a great chance to see what other students in other departments have been making, and to be able to step back and look at the art department as a whole and see what great things are coming out of it.”

Visitors can see Insights at the University Art Museum for its last week, Tuesday through Sunday from 12PM to 5PM. On Thursday the museum will be open starting at 9AM for the College of the Arts Commencement. For more information about the UAM, visit the website here or checkout the Facebook page, here.

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