The art of learning and the learning of art

Maya Kim '18

A senior becomes a better artist, activist and student through her experience as a student curator.

May 10, 2018
Maya Kim
Maya Kim (left) presents “Representing Feminism(s),” an exhibit she helped curate, to an English class visiting the Lamont Gallery.

It’s almost like I began working in the gallery by accident.

My lower year, I heard from a friend that students were helping choose pieces for the next Lamont Gallery exhibit (at the time provisionally named “Stay Woke”). I immediately sent an email to the gallery director, Ms. O’Neal, asking if there were still openings for student workers. I did this without much thought. I was taking Exeter’s art history course and had an interest in social justice, so I did this thinking, “Why not? It’ll probably be fun.” I did not expect my time in the gallery to be integral to my Exeter career.

Since that first email in which I asked to join the curation team for the exhibit that ended up being named “Change Agents,” I have worked on multiple projects, from open mic nights to gallery tours. And I have helped curate other exhibits such as “Of Accidental Origin,” a sampling of pieces from the school’s collection displayed in the principal’s house, and “Representing Feminism(s),” the most recent and last of my curatorial projects.

The process for “Representing Feminism(s)mirrored that of “Change Agents.” In both, we sifted through hundreds of submissions, asking the questions: “Does this go with the theme of the show?” and “Is this what we want to say?” We met weekly and voted yes, no and maybe to put together an exhibit that we believed represented our message. All mediums were welcomed. On one day we watched all of the video performance works we had received, causing a great deal of disturbance and intrigue.

“Representing Feminism(s)” at Lamont Gallery.

My love for art has only grown over the two years I’ve worked as a student curator. I have met incredible artists like Ella Cooper and Catherine Graffam, who both exhibited work in “Representing Feminism(s).” I distinctly remember a conversation with Graffam when we talked about how to create meaningful art and bonded over our impatience with painting in oil. During a conversation with Cooper, she discussed the importance of presentation and artwork size in creating a relationship with the viewer.

On gallery opening nights, anyone can go up to the artists and speak with them. But people often don’t. As a student curator, I learned how to talk about and appreciate art, allowing me to go into these situations calm and collected, because no matter how scared I was, I knew the pieces and I knew what I thought about them.

When I sent that first email, I didn’t know that I had gotten myself into years of curating shows, helping organize events, and giving tours and little speeches to classes, heads of school and students from local high schools.

This opportunity has added such depth to my time at Exeter, so much more than I could have ever imagined. This work has made me a better artist, better activist and better student.

Maya Kim is a senior from Arlington, Virginia.


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