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Politics and race form creative student work

by Eva Hoffman

La Jolla Light

With pieces ranging from traditional sketches to nonfunctional metal headgear, an upcoming exhibition at the Athenaeum presents the San Diego State University Art Art Council’s selection of innovative and well-crafted student artwork.

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Athenaeum has worked in conjunction with the SDSU Art Department to display the work of undergraduate and graduate award winners. Andrea Schmidt, formerly a member of both the Athenaeum and the SDSU Art Council, originally conceived the exhibition with the help of Joan and Irwin Jacobs Executive Director Erika Torri.

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Seven students have pieces in this year’s show. The SDSU Art Council, a community support group for SDSU’s School of Art, Design and Art History, recently held a scholarship competition and a juried exhibition at the university. The winners received monetary awards and the opportunity to participate in the Athenaeum’s exhibition.

The Art Council Scholarship Committee reviewed 18 portfolios, each with about 10 pieces, and chose David Clemons, Griselda Rosas and Stephanie Walker as scholarship recipients.

Clemons, who won the $15,000 grand prize, is a graduate student in jewelry and metalsmithing. A leading factor in selecting him was his use of advanced craftsmanship to address issues of race. Clemons explores the construction of racial identity in America and the different factors influencing it.

Scholarship committee chair Tracy Wilborn said, “Clemons’s work is beautifully crafted, as well as being conceptually strong.”

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One of his works that will be on display at the Athenaeum is “Remembrance Rosary,” a metal chain interspersed with capsules holding memory scrolls.

Clemons asked African-American friends and relatives to record memories of a time they were identified by race, then shortened each story to fit on a scroll. He also requested that they send a word - for example, solidarity - that they believe African Americans should practice in order to have a happier and healthier community.

Clemons removed vocabulary that identified these stories as African-American to make them more universal. He wanted people of many groups to apply the lessons to their own experiences.

“Together, the word and the story become an individual rosary, not necessarily a prayer, but a story of wisdom and guidance that is meant to inform, and through informing alter someone’s perceptions and future behaviors,” Clemons said.

Undergraduate students Rosas and Walker received $1,000 scholarships. Rosas uses mixed media to create organically shaped sculptures. Wilborn praised her work as “very mature and well-developed, especially for an undergrad.”

Walker presented artwork of a more classic nature in her portfolio. She submitted a series of sketched portraits that the committee regarded as a refreshing departure from current trends.

The student award exhibition had 150 applicants, from which graduate students Linda Akesson, Sandra Doore, Laura Prieto-Velasco and Shannon Lieberman were named Art Council Awardees. Each received a $500 prize.

Since the exhibition offers a cash prize and not a purchase award, students working in a wider variety of fields gain recognition. A purchase award occurs when a community member buys a student’s work, so they tend to go to painters or sculptors. SDSU’s exhibition permits students in graphic design, ceramics, photography, jewelry and metalsmithing, textiles, sculpture, painting and furniture to compete.

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Graphic designer Akesson submitted one such unusual piece, a handmade artist book entitled “Church/State.” The piece relies on typography to deliver a visual and verbal message about these institutions.

“‘Church/State’ is an account on the inseparability of church and state in our society and the deceiving use of language in both entities, which makes you wonder if there is some other meaning behind the facade of words,” Akesson said.

Prieto-Velasco’s winning work is a conceptual, headpiece crafted in metal. Looping wires secure two curved metal plates resembling a beak or snout around the wearer’s mouth.

Although technically in the painting department, Doore’s current pieces lean more towards sculpture. She has been strongly influenced by Frank Stella, a 20th-century painter who brought his paintings out into three dimensions, focusing on the viewers’ experience of space. Doore compared looking at Stella and his followers’ work to walking through a painting.

One of the four Art Council awards goes to a student in art history for a research paper. The selection committee looks for papers that display strong writing and originality of ideas and research.

View the students’ work between Saturday, May 27, and June 10. The exhibition opens Friday, May 26, with a reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free.