This fall, I explored art at The Van Every/Smith Galleries.
When I think of art, I think of approaching with an open mind. If you are set that art can only be one way, you lose the perfect imperfection that art is. It includes the risky, bold strokes of art, the multitude of thin lines that accompany drawing, and the perfect timing of a well-caught photo. With these well timed, untimed moments, you have perfection with the imperfect. When heading into the True Likeness exhibition, I went in unbeknownst to what I was going to see. No prior research. No pre-formed thoughts. Just excitement. I went in desiring to see art that a person felt like sharing. I went in desiring an impact— something that would make me walk away and say “Wow. Let me tell you about this!” To my joy, True Likeness left me with a smile within my heart, as my idea of what a portrait was, was expanded.
Often, when one thinks of a “portrait,” they think of an image, drawn or not, of a person; it likely would include the face, head, and shoulders. At least, that’s what I thought of. To my surprise, a portrait embodied so much more, and meant much more than just displaying a person, a face. It was an expression of one’s social standing, it represented an identity, it voiced a perspective, or gave voice to a place or person or thing.
Take, for instance, Juan R. Fuentes’ piece. It began as an effort to contradict ideas being spread about Mexican people, about border complications. It ended with portraits of his family. It ended with displaying his family with dignity as they lived their lives and raised their families. It was not about the stereotypes. It was not about the media’s portrayal of Mexican people. It was about the beauty of his family. It was about portraying them authentically. This art was one in alignment with the basic idea of a portrait (as in face, head, shoulders).
Kameron Neal’s portrait was nothing of what I expected. Rather, it was text. Words. It represents the variety that accompanies the word “portrait.” I had never thought of a portrait as something made from phrases, and perhaps that’s one reason I feel so inclined to write about it. Through an old-school display of a slide projector, Neal uses text to paint his picture. He creates a memory of his, of a neighbor’s house, that invoked fear within him. The house had a Confederate flag in the front. Neal explains through short sets of words that perhaps the flag was beneficial; it served as a warning. A warning to stay far away from that neighbor. And, although perhaps beneficial, it left a jarring scar. A memory that cannot be lost. His portrait speaks beyond the projected words, as it reminds viewers of the racism that still exists in present time. I also enjoyed the gallery’s lasting thought at the end of Neal’s exhibit plaque: is it preferred for a racist to be overt and known, or for the racism to be hidden under civility?
While many pieces stuck out to me, these two pieces touched on current controversies (or recent ones). Fuentes discussed a pressing issue that included race and stereotypes of Mexican people. He touched on it through his still art by displaying his family in a different light than others, who fall weary to a stereotypical approach, might. Neal, similarly, touched on a present trouble that has led to an entire movement — the BLM movement — that focuses on eliminating this systemic racism; this ever-present racism. Moreover, Neal took a different approach to portrait, making his idea, alone, stick. His presentation, in itself, was impactful.
I implore you to go and see these exhibits before they are gone, and I leave you with a few other photos I took during my time visiting.
For more on the Davidson College Van Every/Smith Galleries, see here!