Carissa Chen

Year of Graduation: 
Carissa with her painting, Oblivion on the Styx: A Self-Portrait of my Funeral.

"The arts are how I connect my scattered memories into a single continuum of an evolving self."

Carissa Chen ’17 is an upper from Tustin, California, who combines a passion for art and writing with a commitment to social justice. She is the editor of Pendulum, Exeter’s student-run literary arts journal, and a member of the Ethics Forum, Debate Club and the MLK Day Committee.

My teachers have helped nurture my interests in the arts. They encourage me, but they also push me to think more deeply about the work I’m creating. I took the advanced drawing course my prep winter, the art history course, Art and the State, my lower year, and I will be taking Art 444 this spring. Outside of visual arts, I’ve signed up for a couple of theater courses my senior year, and I love watching the performances and concerts at Exeter. (I’m really excited about the DRAMAT production of High School Musical, which my friend is designing this spring!)

Carissa enjoys a laugh in math class.

Carissa enjoys a laugh in math class.


My academic classes have influenced a lot of my work. The arts are very fluid, and studying French surrealists as part of an independent study, seeing student performances at school, or listening to a slam poem and reading an interesting philosophical viewpoint in English class often inspire my artwork and poetry. I’m also inspired by the other students and artists at Exeter, and amazed at the work they create on campus — from fashion designs to black-and-white films to the time a student in my English class composed a Latin opera for his final. Artists on campus often end up talking and becoming mutually inspired by one another. I love how the artwork on campus becomes a kind of Harkness discussion.

I’ve always been moved by artists and writers who turn their experiences of discrimination into art that humanizes themselves and others. I try to do the same in my own work, on an individual and a community level. My photographs explore the Asian-American experience, as well as the treatment of women and the sick and elderly. Most of my paintings are self-portraits about how I struggle to contextualize my identity. My poems are often historical, persona-related poems that explain a personal question that I can’t quite understand without a different perspective. This year, I worked with some friends to lead the mural-painting workshop for MLK Day. With a total of 50 Exeter students and teachers, we worked on a mural honoring Nelson Mandela. I also co-designed ”We All Bleed Red,” an exhibit that combines art and social activism.

Self-portrait by Carissa.

Self-portrait by Carissa.

When I was younger, I had an art teacher who taught me, ”Learning to draw is learning how to see.” That phrase has stuck with me, and I’m still learning [how] to see. Art helps me look at others and at myself, challenging me each time to try a different perspective. Art and writing have always been central to my growth and identity and part of my process of self-excavation. The arts — whether in a book or a museum — are how I connect my scattered memories into a single continuum of an evolving self.