Just one week ago, I boarded a Syracuse-bound train for a seven-hour ride outside the city, where my friend was to host her senior photography exhibit and hold one more final artist talk. Aside from the excuse to temporarily escape the incessant buzz of the city, I was excited about the prospect of seeing her work. Having grown up painting, sculpting and sketching, I had always wanted to go to art school in some capacity, but since words won out over brush strokes and shutters, this was my vicarious art school graduation, and I was going to enjoy it.
My friend is a photographer with a fine arts background, and her exhibit was to me (no bias) the strongest one of the bunch not just because she knew the terminology and the techniques, but because her message was so strong and relatable. On the second day I was there, each of her classmates got up before the rest of the class and talked about their ideas, influences and visions – each gallery revealing a different side of their personalities and quirks.
My friend’s exhibit hinged on the concepts of identity and ethnicity, of growing up as a second-generation Filipino American in a predominantly Asian community and then moving to Syracuse for school. She spoke about identifying more with her ethnicity and culture after her move, and how it felt to be on both the outside and the inside at different points of her life. In one series, which she dubbed “The Hyphen Series,” she played with the concept of the hyphen as both a separator and a connector of words, concepts and identities. She photographed her own face with black bars running across her closed eyes at different intervals, creating a Morse code of sorts, the bridging of two cultures playing across her face.
And in looking at her works, her ideas pouring forth through different mediums – video, photography, sculpted craft – I knew that there were definitely still elements of art that words could never aptly match. The reason why art is such a necessity (albeit an oft-dismissed one) is that it resonates differently with each individual viewer, and it provides a reflection into that person’s psyche in a way.
Fashion is an art form. Photography is an art form. Architecture is an art form. How our society is feeling during a given time period and how we feel about certain issues is reflected in so many different artistic expressions throughout our everyday lives that it almost becomes unnoticeable. But it’s still such a huge part of how we frame our current state of mind.
They say that to the world, you may be one person, but to one person, you may be the world – and so it is with art and culture. And so, with my friend’s pieces, I felt the significance of a whole lot of issues literally boxed in and packaged through her art. To say that they will have a huge impact on defining our culture and our times, these college-age art pieces, would be naïve. But in the sense that she was carving out a piece of our current society and molding it to define her own corner of the world – in that sense, she was making a world of difference.