Artists on identity

Students share inspiration behind pieces featured in the Lamont Gallery’s “CRITICAL JOY” exhibition.

Adam Loyd
November 17, 2020
Avery Lavine's work "Extracting Palettes"

“Extracting Palettes" by Avery Lavine '22, part of the Lamont Gallery's exhibit "CRITICAL JOY."

“How can art be used to explore identity?”

That’s the question put forth by Lamont Gallery Manager Stacey Durand as student artists presented their works as part of “Rewriting the Narrative: Student Voices Artist Talk.”

Sarah Kang ’21, Sabrina Kearney ’22, Avery Lavine ’22 and Danielle Sung ’22 discussed their contributions to the fall 2020 exhibition “CRITICAL JOY,” which celebrates “strength in diversity.” The students shared the inspiration behind their pieces that explore topics of identity, mental health, race and social issues. 

Danielle Sung explained that her piece, “Culture Clash,” was inspired by dissecting the dual cultural influences that have shaped her identity. Born in Manhattan, Sung was raised in South Korea where she spoke Korean at home, but attended an English-speaking international school before PEA.

“I really had to switch between two different manners, languages and cultures every few hours,” Sung said.

"Culture Clash" by Daniel Sung

The installation depicts Sung in two oil paintings on life-sized canvasses arranged back-to-back, one in the traditional Korean hanbok and the other in modern American stylings of jeans and a T-shirt. Surrounding the canvasses are mirrors, presenting both sides of Sung to the viewer from every angle, something the artist says shows the “equal importance of both cultures” in her life.  

Kang discussed one of her pieces that was born out of self-reflection. The senior’s “Self-portrait” was made “on a whim” and captures her feelings on life in the age of COVID-19.

Sarah Kang's "Self-portrait"

“This [piece] was made to express how I felt during quarantine with mental health and disorientation and time passing, but me not recognizing that things were actually happening,” she said. 

Lavine explored the intricacies of skin complexion in her series “Extracting Palettes.” The colored pencil drawings amplify the multitudes of tones and shades that make up a person’s skin color. She said she hopes her series encourages people to “appreciate and acknowledge diversity.”

“I feel like a common misconception in trying to learn to be anti-racist is saying you don’t see race or color. But if you don’t see race, then you’re making the choice to ignore racism as well,” Lavine said.

For her piece titled “Rise,” Kearney says she was inspired by current events and discussions around the Harkness table in her lower year English class. 

“We read a series of poems called ‘Bullets into Bells,’ which focused on gun violence in America and I was really taken with this topic,” she said. 

Sabrina Kearney's "Rise"

The oil and collage on canvas shows Kearney’s likeness somberly peering through the fingers of her right hand while holding a small American flag in her left. Surrounding the self-portrait are newspaper clippings documenting gun violence that, when read as a whole, form an original poem by the Nashua, New Hampshire native. 

You can watch the artists discuss their works here:


To view more from “CRITICAL JOY,” including additional work from these artists, other students and recent alumni, visit the Lamont Gallery online.

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