This month, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) is collaborating with UC Berkeley’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in a celebration of the works of this year’s six graduates — a tradition now in its 47th year.
Though these are recently-graduated students, many have already exhibited in various galleries across the Bay Area. This year’s exhibition at the BAMPFA features an unmistakable influence of the confusion characterizing the current political climate, as the students present works dealing with each of their own identities in the context of history and society.
Each of these graduates offers unique ways to explore their own backgrounds and identities and in turn gives us great insight into not only their personal stories, but some of the greater cultural narratives that make up our society.
Takming Chuang’s sculptural works deal primarily with his thoughts on preservation and fear of change. His sculptures fall in the abstract realm, taking on more globular forms. He works in clay but has decided with these works to leave the clay unfired, creating remarkably brittle and fragile sculptures. This irony is at the center of his works — the clay now must be wrapped in plastic to preserve its form as long as possible, yet its eventual degradation is inevitable.
At the gallery’s entrance, Jovi Schnell’s three massive canvases full of bright pure colors immediately catch the eye. “Modern psychedelic Kandinsky” comes to mind, yet Schnell grounds the abstraction in her personal research into futuristic biological systems and engineering. Growing up in a queer feminist collective in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, she depicts her intimate relationship with nature in conjunction to our growingly technological world. The end result is a kaleidoscope of chaotic colors and technological symbols that leaves viewers feeling removed from reality.
Andrew Wilson, using a similar juxtaposition to that of Schnell, explores an intersection of black, queer and slave narratives. His installation centers on a chair surrounded by small brass flowers. The work has a distinctly picturesque copper tint, but although the piece is so pleasing to an outside eye, each aspect of the art was carefully chosen in the historical context of slavery, from brass cotton ball husks to the chair stuffed with cotton and human hair. This dissonance created from beauty in contrast to icons of slavery is a theme that Wilson transfers to his fashion line as well, thoroughly exploring his identity in larger black narratives.
Unlike Wilson’s subtle depictions of black bodies and their relation to slavery, Behnaz Khaleghi takes a more visceral, pointed approach in her commentary on the treatment of women — specifically Middle Eastern women. Her work is littered with phallic structures and symbols as paintings on the wall or even hanging from the ceiling. Her installation “In Heaven” occupies a large corner that the viewer can walk through and stand in the middle of. The viewer can thus become enveloped in her world, conscious of their own reactions to the imagery and what that means in the context of society’s expectations of women.
Shari Paladino’s “Habitas,” on the other hand, looks much like a sitcom set, yet with an eerie undertone with which she explores her memory of her childhood. The kitchen and stairs seem to be completely constructed out of wood, painting a monotonous pale filter on the installation. The strange feeling they engender is enhanced by the many details, from the odd shapes cut into the cupboards to the titles of the books on the shelf, all while our attention is diverted by a video detailing the paternity story of her biracial brother playing in the background. We never lose sight of the installation being primarily a memory — her memory — as she explores her childhood in a modern context of race and culture.
Lucas DeGiulio, currently an environmental studies teacher in Sausalito, brings his work into his art. Often taking his students outside on field trips, he uses this opportunity to collect twigs and other materials to make small sculptures. Yet his large rugged Bay Area landscapes are what stands out. He creates his engravings by tracing lights and shadows in his studio, the end result more abstract but recognizably geographic. Likely a reflection of the current state of the environment, the art often contains a bleak feeling. Nature and landscapes are reduced to neutral darks and lights, sharp lines and contrasts, a clear sense of foreboding. His occasional subtle incorporation of plastic and other synthetic elements into his works adds yet another layer of conflict into his commentary on our changing relationship with the environment.
The MFA Graduate Exhibition runs through June 11 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) in Downtown Berkeley.