Photographed by Eliza Jouin

Interviewed by Zoe Sottile

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Mickal. I am a junior in Columbia College, and I’m studying Classics. I’m from New Orleans. I am a Featured Artist this month!

What do you do to impress someone?

I have lots of random songs memorized, and poems, so I either do the first few lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or all of the words to Lil Wayne’s “A Milli.”  I also can put both of my legs behind my head. It was a talent that I used for nefarious purposes. One time in middle school, I hid behind this one teacher’s podium. When they came into the classroom, I had both of my legs behind my head and crawled out on my hands. I was that kid.

Place you go to be alone?

For the past two semesters I’ve scheduled it so I have all of my classes on one day and no classes the next day. I’ll go to Butler early in the morning, and it’s like my mindful Butler time. I’ll get a snack and make myself “study” but in a leisurely way, so I don’t feel like I’m studying. The room that faces Ferris on the 3rd floor of Butler has all of those alcoves, and I feel like as long as I have one of those alcoves I cannot be a part of stress culture.

What is your relationship to fashion like?

I love to dress myself; I am a work of art. I get everything that I can from thrift stores. I really like baggy pants; I’m very inspired by streetwear, really love sneakers. Red is my favorite color to wear. For Halloween this year, I went to a party that was themed around The Shining, and there’s the one scene where all the blood comes down the hallway, and I realized that I could go as the blood in a head-to-toe red outfit.

Do you have any style tips?

So thrift for statement pieces and then layering. Tactical layering. Long shirt under t-shirt, love a turtleneck, crazy shoes are always great. Never take it too seriously. My vibe is sexy toddler.

Greatest trend of all time?

Baggy pants - I just don’t like skinny jeans. It is my thesis that skinny jeans are a one-time trend and that I hope that they never return. Mostly because they don’t fit anyone right, especially men, and it just ends up making them look weird, like they have giraffe legs. I like super baggy pants.

When did you start taking photos?

I grew up around a lot of art. My dad painted for a long time, and my grandmother does just about everything: she paints, she sews, she ran a weaving shop in New Orleans. I didn’t get into photography until pretty late but my dad is a huge photographer. All of my cameras are my dad’s that I borrow. I didn’t really get into photography until my first year of college. I came home after college and thought, “I wanna do something,” and felt confident enough to tap into my dad’s resources.

Series of New Orleans - Mickal Adler

Series of New Orleans - Mickal Adler

What artists, teachers, and artworks have most inspired you?

Definitely my first artist inspirations were my family members, my dad specifically. We have a lot of his artwork hanging around because he did art in high school and college. He has this one landscape painting of these mountains and a sunset: it’s all different shades of blue and orange. It’s in our kitchen, which he decorated. My dad is also an interior designer and he owned a furniture company briefly, so our whole setup is blue and orange around the painting. That was probably the first one that really inspired me.

In terms of artists, I’m really into art history and have a lot of favorite artists. In terms of painters, I really like Cezanne. I like new media art - like this work called “Valley Curtain” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. I really like that - it’s the opposite of what I do, super collaborative pieces that require big amounts of manpower and space.

What did you first start photographing?

The first few were just around my house and my neighborhood, and I didn’t submit any of those, mostly because they’re so empty and so boring. The exercise there is walking around a space that isn’t really meant to be walked around. I live in a neighborhood that’s close to New Orleans proper, but it’s technically a suburb, so it’s rolling streets of separate houses. It’s a place where you know your neighbors, but everyone drives to work. You don’t walk down the main streets.

I walked around my neighborhood - it was at night too, so it was totally empty - and realized that there are certain places in which people just don’t interact with in certain ways. Walking a neighborhood that I feel like has never been walked before was very interesting.

Series of Grandmother’s House - Mickal Adler

Series of Grandmother’s House - Mickal Adler

What do you feel can be captured by an image of an exterior or interior that cannot be captured by an image of a human subject?

In one sense it’s really fun to take pictures of people because your camera becomes the means of interacting with them, and they’re aware of that. With things, they can’t change because you’re taking a picture. So it becomes less about the experience of being photographed and more active on the photographer’s part.

In New Orleans, especially in the summer, you don’t stay outside if at all possible. The only people who are outside are people who absolutely have to be. So you get that suburban feel all over New Orleans because no one really walks, so the streets are empty of people. There are lots of cars, and the streets are very active, but it still feels empty. In my pictures there are dogs and cats, but not people. There’s one where the dog’s on the porch, and the door’s open, and you have to assume that people are inside, because why else is the door open?

I feel like in those pictures you can tell how hot it was by looking at them, and that’s what I wanted to convey: the actual experience of being outside and being alone and noticing little things. By not having anything to focus on, in terms of subjects in the pictures, you look for little things.

How is your artwork reflective of your identity? How is it personal to you?

I use photography as a means of self-exploration. It’s personal, but also I’m inspired by members of my family. I included a few photos from my grandmother’s house, a couple pictures of her bathrooms, which are really great. Her whole house is really cool. She’s been a big inspiration for me, in terms of how she lives her life as an artist. She’s really interested in every kind of literature and reading; she reads the craziest things. I feel like what’s grounded me has been my family and where I’m from.

Why take photos of your grandmother’s house?

My grandmother’s really shy. I really want to do portraits of her, but I haven’t gotten up the courage to ask, mostly because I know she wouldn’t be into it. In addition to being so learned and being so interested in everything, she’s also the bookkeeper of our family history. Her house, it’s like a physical family history, and so in the way that I want to catalog New Orleans I really wanna do that with her house.

New York Series - Mickal Adler

New York Series - Mickal Adler

Your artist statement grounds your work in the city of New Orleans. Do you also take photos in New York? Do you have a different artistic relationship with the two cities?

The one film thing I did in New York is a whole roll of film that I accidentally shot on the first exposure. It’s 25 images all stacked on top of each other. I feel like that’s my relationship with New York - all of my photos have so much going on, where they really don’t in New Orleans. This is this one [image] that I really like from NY, because you can see trees, but also a building, but also a woman, and traffic. But at the same time, I took all these photos because I was with my dad, and he told me we should just go and take photos today. So the photo is still grounded in me, my family, and New Orleans.

What is your relationship with social media like?

I’m a lot more fun on social media. If the picture isn’t gonna be in some way funny, even if it’s just poking fun at the fact that I’m doing something extra on Instagram, then I don’t really wanna post it. Definitely the way that I interact is like humor value, fun value. I definitely like connecting with people; I’ve met a lot of people through social media, which is an undervalued use of it. It’s hard because it’s really easy to attach worth to it and get caught up in like oh, who has followers. But it’s an easy way of personal expression. It’s like ultimate accessibility photography.

There’s definitely the push that social media implicitly gives everyone to create, create, create, post, post, post, and so it’s hard to say: no, I wanna take the time and have these developed and think about how I want to present them. That’s the hardest part, I think, once you have the photos, not to just post them all immediately. And just keep them and think about what you wanna say with them.

It’s really hard to do important photography through Instagram or representative photography through Instagram. I think it's helpful to think about social media as new media rather than the new way of consuming other media. It's helpful as a means for connecting people, but it's not the same as physically going and seeing someone's photos or painting. It's a very fixed context for representation: there are rules about how your posts are constructed by the apps, like how you have a certain amount of canvas or a certain kind of camera. It's probably the most restricted method of expression despite being so accessible. So yeah, I'd say social media is more a means than an end for me.


Photographed by Margaret Maguire

Interviewed by Yosan Alemu

Sonia Kahn is a first year in Columbia College, intending to pursue a joint major in visual arts and art history. You can follow her (and her work!) on instagram, and on her website.

Your first semester is wrapping up. What have you liked so far about the Columbia/NYC art scene? How is it different to that of England?

The creative people that I was surrounded by in England were mainly musicians, due to the the group of people I fell into. A lot of the work and the projects I was involved with were focused on music, where visual art was assisting the music, not necessarily the main focus. Coming here, I really wanted to focus on the visual art itself. My first semester has been really awesome. I got into a basic drawing class, and my professor is great, gives wonderful advice, and is a practicing artist herself. Also, the art scene on campus is extremely diverse — in a good way — and there’s always loads of things, events, exhibits to see and to be a part of, like Postcrypt and Ratrock!

With your work, I know that you express yourself through various different mediums: image manipulation, film, animation, projection, etc. How did you find these avenues?

In terms of avenues, or how I decide to use these mediums, I usually start off with a concept, an image, or literally any kind of thought. And from that I'll brainstorm; I was always taught that brainstorming is really good for when you’re in the beginning stages of creating a piece, especially when dealing with abstract ideas. With the brainstorming, I then begin working through massive ideas that lead me to begin working on themes, or the bigger picture of my work (what do I want to convey, how can I convey it).

When looking at themes, I think again very conceptually, and from that I pick a medium to work in. I also go through a bit of experimentation along the process, notably in how I decide to use certain mediums. Most of the time, I begin with collage as the first entry because it gives me the most visual keys as to what I can continue to create moving forward. Collage is a great way to physically see what you’re working with. From that, I'll try to change mediums , like using print or projection, or quite literally any kind of medium I think best fits the central project of my work.

I would also say that I experiment with different mediums by way of my high school, and the education I received there. I was really lucky because at my school back in England, not many people took art classes, so I had a lot of attention and careful guidance from my teachers. Our curriculum was very open-ended, so I was practically given free reign create any type of artistic work.

"Magic Puzzle", Cyanotype, 2018.

"Magic Puzzle", Cyanotype, 2018.

What themes or concepts do you find yourself working with a lot?

I always end up doing work that is related to the female experience. It comes up in one way or another, and I don’t ever want to escape something that is integral to my identity. I'm working as a female creator, and this is something that I will continuously grapple with (in terms of creation, work, vision). I’m also always interested in the uncanny: the weird things that we never fully accept (or want to accept), and acknowledge. For instance, mixing old and new, familiar and unfamiliar. All the strange things of the everyday experience that seem minute but can really have substantial effect or responses in my work.

Are there any life experiences that shape the way you think about art and your work?

I had this really influential teacher up until I was 17 or 18 at my high school. She was basically my mentor and introduced me to all of these crazy artists that I found myself in. Artists that worked outside of the conventional framework of what is accepted as ‘art,’ artists that weren’t afraid to produce work that meant something to them, and not solely for an audience. She also taught me so much in terms of using analog photographic processing — a medium that I now love working in. Looking back at all that she has taught, I can see how my everyday work is inspired by her passion and guidance.

When people see your work, what do you want them to feel? How do you want them to engage?

I like to have fun with my pieces and I like for my pieces to have bits of humor in them. If I can make someone laugh or feel intrigued, I feel as if they’re really engaging with the work. I also really enjoy when people figure out my work, like a puzzle, because it’s fun for the both of us. It’s aesthetically and conceptually interesting.

Describe yourself in three words, then describe your work in three words.

Perfectionist (that’s a double-edged sword), busy, and passionate. And then for my work: analog, digital, and experimental.

If you could consume one medium of art for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Film. Definitely film.

Do you find freedom in making art, in creating experiences for others, and for yourself?

Yes, I absolutely think so. It’s also helped me to to find freedom within myself, and in terms of how I can express myself - feelings, thoughts, etc. - through my work, which I never really had until I started making art. Not to be cliche, but as I started creating for myself, that's when I began to actually understand myself.


Photographed by Maya Hertz

Interviewed by Isabella Rafky

First, tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Amy Gong Liu. I am a senior in Columbia College majoring in Human Rights, English, and Asian American Studies. I write poetry, lyric prose, and essays on the Sino-American diasporic experience, translation between Mandarin and English, love, longing and loss.

What is the Sino-American Diaspora?

The term refers to several different waves of human migration and settling from China. My work focuses mainly on my parents who left Beijing when they were in their twenties and came over to the United States. It’s also about growing up first-gen and only knowing family as my younger sister, mom, and dad—and dealing with the kind of longing for family outside of immediate parenthood. I would see kids with grandparents, aunts, or uncles growing up, and would wonder what that kind of familiarity felt like.

Tell me about how you write and when you started writing.

I’ve always been writing poetry and prose. When I was younger I did so under the guise of anonymity and submitted a lot of pieces to different publications under pseudonyms because I was too afraid to bridge the distance between artist and artistry. I stored most of it in this semi-private blog that only close friends had the URL to, and in it, I rarely mentioned names. Publishing my work and connecting its symbolism to identity or personhood or even my name is only something I recently started doing, but something I absolutely want to run with in the future.

How young were you when you first started getting published? What inspired the pseudonyms?

I think I was in elementary school. It was a class assignment, so we all had to do it, but the story I wrote won an award. There was even a cash prize. My teacher slipped the money into my backpack and said something like: “Don’t tell anyone.” I carried that home; both the money and the symbolism of having words out there crystallized in a form of permanence, but also her words, warning me not to “tell anyone about this.”

So I kept writing, but I kept the writer behind the writing secret. There was a lot of desire to break free from whatever cultural rigidity I was trying to denounce in myself. I think as a child I had this ideation towards whiteness and any kind of assimilatory behavior, and what I was doing behind these pseudonyms and my work was trying to break away from myself.

In your artist statement, you write “my words seek to constellate stories of remaining.” What does remaining mean to you?

I think of it mostly in the context of place. Of people who leave established things, places, families, cultures, or people behind in the hopes of creating or finding something new. Often, when that process of migration occurs, people that either in the place that they left or the self that they left, that there’s something that still hasn’t been filled—and whatever that is is passed on through children and through generations. The kind of melancholy that lingers that is what I'm trying to explore in words. Remaining is something that remains in me, but also remained before, in parents, and what and who came before them.

“Storefront Windows” by Amy Gong Liu

“Storefront Windows” by Amy Gong Liu

I remember in your poetry you speak about your grandmother and that communication between the both of you…

I definitely write a lot about her. I’ve met her twice in my life, and both of those interactions provide all of the memories and images that I have pulled from when I’m writing. I find that even when I’m writing about immediate family, a lot of it I have to rely on something close to imagination. Not much is known to me about them, and part of the writing process borderlines into the fictional, simply because it’s the only option I have.

In describing your work as almost fiction, was there any semblance of magic growing up? You also talk about the disjointment of religion growing up, so how does that all come together?

Maybe magic isn’t the most specific term. I’m thinking more in terms of fantasy in coming back to this aspect of longing. I write not necessarily to find answers, but to find the questions around these answers. It’s why I think spirituality and religion really tie into a lot of my writing. I come back to memories of specific Buddhist practices done only for ritual; it was never explained to me why I went to the altar and said mantras. Now that I’ve returned, fifteen or sixteen years later, I discover that now, maybe I want to—and my writing is a way of reinventing and restorifying that memory into something with actual meaning.

What is one of the main things that is passed on through you and that you show through your work?

I’ve written a lot of poems and prose about the freedom behind movement, and a lot of this comes from stories I’ve been told about foot binding, and of using ribbons to wrap or control the women in my family. Writing about it helps me to explore the symbolism between physical and emotional staticity, and the trauma of femininity/feminine desire to move still limits me in some way today.

How have you engaged with Mandarin and English in your personal life? How does it come through in your work?

It’s become, as a writer and as a person, the biggest question for me to answer. I tell people that I have a mechanical fluency in English in that I can speak it, that my hands and head know exactly how to work with it. But as I have started writing more about Mandarin and family and culture, I find that English just isn’t enough to be able to capture whatever I’m trying to put on the page. There’s a heart fluency, almost, that I have in Mandarin, that English will never reach. Mandarin exists in something like blood or form or poetics in me. Even in the things that are unsaid.

My latest project is a series of essays about the gaps of translation between Mandarin and English, and the loss of meaning in intimate spaces, specifically between me and my mother. I’m trying to capture the difficulties of growing up and never being able to speak the same language as your own family, and the things that get lost along the way. The realization that I’ve come to, and the realization that the book is coming to, is that whatever language you’re working in—Mandarin, English, whatever—language is only the best option we have to translate emotion and experience. We all know that there are things that we see or feel, though, that no words will ever be able to capture.

“Storefront Windows” by Amy Gong Liu

“Storefront Windows” by Amy Gong Liu

How does the effect of language come through in your poetry?

Poetry is a chance to suspend or intimate rather than to say something directly. I like working with it because it can capture so much stillness. I can say something in English in it and mean something in Mandarin. That’s the beauty of it.

Did you read poetry before you started writing?

Not as much as I’m reading it now. Part of the beauty in sinking so deeply into writing poetry is that I’m reading a lot more of it. Specifically, poetry written by other Asian American authors. I’m also making an effort to read poetry in translation from Chinese poets like Bei Dao and the other Misty Poets. I love the different kinds of form they work with, and doing this kind of translation work myself, reading and comparing, has been really great in shaping my own work.

Do you like to write within a form of poetry? Do you see a difference between writing within boundaries and writing without?   

I used to love working in prose because it was fundamentally about structure. I was afraid, I think, of how open ended poetry could be. But one of the things that I’ve been trying to play around with is mixing different forms in a singular poem: I’m working on something right now, dedicated to my father, that’s written in free verse, and has a section that’s a list, and has a section with a Google search history, and more. I’m just trying to see how they gel.

How does that reflect in the paralleling between your usage of Mandarin and English in your work?

It’s a sense of reclamation in a way: instead of trying to make something familiar to me, I’m simply sharing my own defamiliarization with everyone else. I’m sharing what it’s like to always be jarred in my own body and with my own work, to not be able to be familiar in one language but to use another. That experience of self, the simultaneously confused author and product, is something that I’m trying to understand.

Tell me about your senior project in Chinatown.

I’m working with the Center for Ethnicity and Race Studies on a photojournalism project about Manhattan's Chinatown. It’s called “Storefront Windows,” and it’s form of documentary reporting where I take pictures of semi-reflective window surfaces as an attempt visually trace Manhattan Chinatown’s history of commercialization from the 1950s until now. Instead of a story about show and tell, it’s more of a story about show and sell. It’s a look at the politics of display—who and what are we showing for whom? What are we saying about the commodification and development of land, its residents, and tourists passing through?

So, you do photography, poetry, and essays? Are those the big three for you?

Yeah, and I also make music. I grew up playing piano and I am self taught on guitar; it’s nice to have a break from words sometimes. I’ve been getting back into basic jazz composition and am trying to write from my chromesthesia. Basically if I hear a pitch on the chromatic scale I have a mental and almost visual association with a specific color. The coolest thing about this is once I hear a song I’m able to remember its visual colors and recreate or transpose it onto a piano. Sometimes I’ll listen to a song and translate it out to a visual format, or to try and write words to it.

How are photojournalism and poetry different? How do they feel similar?

I think they’re much more similar than they are different. When I think of a picture and a poem, I think for both to be good, they have to be first and foremost self-aware. Self-aware of their own limitations, of the fact that they are both two-dimensional. Good photography, good writing, good poetry—it does something with its self-awareness, tries to take it and move something or someone outside of the image or text. It transports itself outside of its own limitations.

How does it feel to be a senior? What are your creative outlets on campus?

(Laughs) It's very scary. It’s filled with a lot of uncertainty; not just with the immediate future, but in the far future too. Part of the magic of this semester though, since I’m graduating this December, has been sinking into the communities of artists that I’ve found on this campus and spending time with the people in my life who are also creators. It’s a bittersweet thing to recognize that the community I’ve found through Columbia won’t be the same again, but it’s pushing me to take advantage of it while I have it now.

How has your work changed over the years?

And another question that’s related to this would probably be “how is it going to change in the coming years?” too. To both: I’m actually not too sure yet. Since writing is one of those things that develops and matures alongside you, I wonder if what I’m putting out now may be written in the same way in the future but read differently. I don’t have access to a lot of what I wrote when I was younger, but if I were to go back and read it now I’m sure I’d understand it differently. The same probably goes, in ten years or so, to understand whatever I’m writing now.


Photographed by Lola Lafia

Interviewed by Elizabeth Meyer

Please introduce yourself:

My name is Stefani Shoreibah. I am a Sophomore at Barnard College, and I grew up in Florida. I am a visual artist and art history major, but I am also pre-med and studying to be a breast oncologist.

What made you decide to be an art history major and pre-med?

For me, both art and medicine are fields that critique the human condition in different ways, but their approach is similar. In that, you have to not only analyze what is in front of you, but also reflect on your own activity [and] see how you can look at something from a different angle. At the core of medicine is humanity, and I think that often gets lost in translation between all of the science classes that pre-med students have to take and the competitiveness in these classes. At the end of the day, medicine is about healing others and addressing their problems. Empathy is itself the medicine many times.

Does art also have a lot to do with empathy?

Absolutely. Art requires empathy for others and an understanding of the environment and space in which we live. You are looking at yourself and challenging how you perceive something, how you perceive the world around you. The work that I do is very personal, very vulnerable.

When and why did you begin creating?

I’ve always loved to draw, and I’ve always loved to paint. I was that kid who scribbled everywhere in coloring books because I hated staying inside the bold lines of whatever shape I was being told to draw. I would actually take my mom’s old medical textbooks because I thought they were advanced coloring books. There were all of these lines and dots and shapes and I would find myself coloring in them. My parents found me doing that one day, and it did not end well.

I went to an arts high school, and that was a huge turning point in my creative process. It was enrollment through audition only. It was a very competitive visual arts environment, but at the same time it was great to be surrounded by so many creative minds. Even though we were all visual artists from the same town and age, we approached things in a different way. It forces you to look at yourself and not only improve your technique but cultivate a better understanding of the art you were making.

Details of Stefani Shoreibah’s work by Lola Lafia

How does your work manifest on campus?

I am an illustrator for the Barnard Bulletin and the Columbia Science Review.

What drew you to using both photography and hyper-realistic graphite drawing in your series, “Feet in the Desert”?

Half of my family is from Egypt; the other half is from the Philippines. My father is an immigrant, and came from Egypt to America. We go back every couple years and visit a farm my family owns on the Nile Delta. During my most recent visit, I went to all of the areas that are stereotypically Egyptian: the Sphinx, the Pyramids, and I took pictures and reflected on the idea of roots, ancestry, and heritage. Being an Arab-American in this cultural climate in America made me reflect a lot on what it means to be who I am. I chose to draw my feet because I felt that I was stepping into a space that I’m seemingly a part of, but in reality not. I’m Egyptian but only by blood, and not by experience. I grew up in America. This idea made me think of feet in the desert. The title is kind of ironic, because I’m in a state of mind trying to connect with my ancestry and while I was physically present in the land of my ancestors, I’m simultaneously detached and disconnected from being truly “Egyptian,” even if I call myself that. I thought that photography and drawing would be interesting to put together while reflecting on these ideas.

Why draw the feet instead of photographing them?

I wanted to capture Egypt for what it was; I didn’t want to touch it in drawing. I feel detached from it in a way. My feet are my own, and I wanted there to be a barrier in medium that would translate to the barrier between my identity and ancestry. This barrier also speaks to how everyone sees Egypt. What I photographed would be stereotypically something you would see in a magazine, and my photographs are not unique. They are images of Egypt of what foreigners see, people from the outside looking in, and ultimately, these images are what I see when I go back to Egypt. As much as I try to connect with ancestry, there’s always going to be this barrier, and to a considerable extent, I’ll always in some way be an outsider looking in on a place that I am supposedly rooted from.

Feet in the Desert - Stefani Shoreibah

Feet in the Desert - Stefani Shoreibah

For your sculpture, “subMERGED,” what drew you to creating a sculpture made from reused materials such as old newspapers, matches, cardboard boxes, Styrofoam, and plastic?

That was a fun piece to make, but I got into a lot of trouble when I made “subMERGED” in my senior year of high school because it was thought to be too political. I grew up in a red part of Florida, and art considered to be political was essentially controversial. “subMERGED” is a statement on American consumerism and human waste, a critique about where our environment is headed from the way we treat our planet.

The sculpture visually depicts objects submerging into the ocean. There are plastic bottles, matches, chicken wire fence, 1960s sewing pattern kits, styrofoam, newspaper, among other things. I literally went to a junkyard to gather materials. I wanted to use trash and junk, things that were tossed away, literal waste. My goal was to turn it all into something that spoke to how mankind has taken the planet’s natural resources and other living creatures for granted. The ocean is a major victim of mankind’s waste and, so much that it is practically a junkyard itself. I wanted to show all of these elements in my sculpture, a piece that I hope reflects the mankind’s carelessness in contaminating the ocean. So while “subMERGED” was thought to be political, it shouldn't have to be. Understanding environmental science should not be politicized. “subMERGED” serves to reflect the state of mankind’s relationship with Earth.

When did you start incorporating your political views into your art?

The area where I grew up in Florida is not in alignment with my political views. I began to embed politics into my work as I grew more aware of my anxiety around topics at the political forefront, such as climate change and women’s rights. Many things were happening while I was in art school, like the 2016 election, and I responded to these external events and adjustments through my art.

Art is my voice; my outlet of expression, as it is for a lot of people. I felt it even more so in a town where so many people were against what I believed politically and pushed back. That’s why I wanted “subMERGED” to be my piece for an exhibit we were doing senior year. My instructors insisted that it was not going to be received well. I thought to myself, if we are capping our voices and limiting how we can express ourselves, is what we are creating truly art?

subMERGED - Stefani Shoreibah

subMERGED - Stefani Shoreibah

In what ways do you incorporate nature and anatomy into your art?

With “subMERGED” and other pieces, I went outside and collected dead things. This will make me sound crazy, but I like to collect dead parts of nature. Not just dead leaves, I like to collect dead flowers. One time I found a butterfly wing and thought it was really beautiful and put it in a piece. I think it’s just artistic preference, to incorporate of anatomy and nature into my work. I like to think that my art reflects me responding to the space I’m in. Nature being actual, literal mother nature, but also the nature of our culture and of our political environment. Art reflects the space where I am and how I incorporate this into a piece reflects how I’m responding to a space.

Regarding anatomy, I love the human body. I think it’s so beautiful in its different forms, and I love drawing hands and feet. There’s an aesthetic to the human body that is raw, something simultaneously fragile and formidable. Anatomy is an essential aspect in studying medicine, and likewise, in studying art. Every art class sequence incorporates some aspect of anatomy. Anatomy is the the strongest visual tie between medicine and art.

In what ways do you work to achieve a binding between the arts, current events, and perception of self in your work?

I made a collage that responded to the Women’s March, and I think it really speaks to art reflecting on current events and my perception of self. When I made the collage, there was tension between cultural identity, personal identity, and what the 2016 election symbolized and threatened. There was also tension surrounding how people in our country could explore their identity. The Women’s March happened in January of 2017. I had a piece that I was working on for school, and the news was on while I was working on it. I thought, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,’ pushed it aside, and I started making my collage. As I was watching the screen, I was illustrating the women I was seeing protesting. This made me think of myself. I began to wonder, ‘What does this mean for me as a woman of color?’ Watching the Women’s March made me question so many different things, and I projected the anger, frustration, and anxiety that I was feeling onto this physical entity that became this collage.

To create the collage, I went back to old Radio Guides from the 1940s and 1930s, another time in which America was experiencing political tension, as well as war and the Great Depression. I ripped out ads of women of that time from the radio guides as well as photos of women in the domestic space cooking for their husbands. I put their faces next to the illustrations that I had drawn of women marching in the Women’s March. This was to show unity, in bringing women of different times and generations together, but I also did this to show stagnancy in the pursuit of gender equality. Women have come so far, but at the same time there’s a long way to go. It was a way for me to bring these women from the forties and thirties next to us in spirit as we enter another era of tension that already jeopardizes the rights of women.

Farm On the Nile - Stefani Shoreibah

Farm On the Nile - Stefani Shoreibah

In your portfolio you say, “There’s always a bit of vulnerability revealed in sharing art, but that’s a vital part of why I started my art blog.” In what ways does sharing art reveal vulnerability for you, and why do you feel that is a vital part in sharing your creation? Do you think vulnerability is an essential part of being an artist?

Art is my voice and a lot of times it expresses my thoughts and feelings in ways that words cannot. A lot of vulnerability goes into sharing parts of yourself that can’t always be expressed in words and conversation. Sometimes I have to project anxiety, tension, and internal conflict onto a physical entity. Art is a literal manifestation of voice and how I’m responding to something in a moment or over time. It’s important for artists to share so that we can see how others are feeling about something we might be responding to as well. Art goes back to human connection, which is also why I love medicine. Medicine is about human connection and looking at humans in their most vulnerable state. Art for me is a form of healing and medicine is healing as well. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that medicine is an art itself. The worst thing is to have passionless art and passionless work. Passion is embedded into everything I do, and especially into my art.

What does the intersection of art and medicine mean to you?

I think the intersection of art and medicine speaks to the human condition in its most vulnerable state. Art, I think, is a critique of self. Art admits vulnerability, anxiety, and inner tension. By creating a physical piece, you’re releasing that energy into something that is going to be viewed by the world.

Medicine is learning to better yourself as a physician through working with a patient. There is often a power dynamic put into place between patients and physicians, something that must be eliminated. Of course, as a physician you have the education and training to address physiological problems humans experience, but you never know how that knowledge is going to be applied until you meet and converse with your patient and see what they want. It’s often said that medicine is about preservation of life, and I think it is about saving people, but saving someone differs with each patient. As an aspiring oncologist, and especially in oncology, life is such a fragile, vulnerable conversation. In the clinical experiences I have had, I learned that sometimes a patient doesn’t want the treatment meant to save their life, because perhaps, saving their life could mean something else for them, something that doesn't involve taking numerous medications or having radiation treatment. Empathy and understanding are especially crucial in oncology because of this. Humans are much more complex than the idea of “saving lives” because there is a point at which this differs among individuals.

Art and medicine as a whole speak to the complexity of the human. Both reveal that there is always, always more beyond the surface. Both teach to approach new situations with listening ears and an open mind and heart not only to others but to yourself.


Photographed by Morgana Van Peebles

Interviewed by Noa Levy Baron

Introduce yourself. Name, year and what you are studying.

My name is Cameron Lee, and I am junior in CC, majoring in Creative Writing and concentrating in Visual Arts. I am one of the Editors-in-Chief of Quarto Literary Magazine here. I am a visual artist and a writer.

What mediums do you use to create art?

I mostly draw in sketchbooks with markers and graphite. Sometimes I paint with acrylic or watercolor, but I mostly draw. I would say that I use sketchbooks mainly out of convenience and because I like to keep all my art in one place. For a while it was daunting for me to have a whole separate piece of paper laid out that had to become “my drawing.” So it was much easier for me to experiment in sketchbooks and really track my growth. I use graphite because of the ease of being able to make mistakes, of experimenting; erasing and going back. More recently I have been into markers because I always wanted to find a way to incorporate color in my art, and I am a little too impatient for color pencils (laughs). In my experience, it takes a while and you have to work with layers. Whereas markers, for me, tend to be a faster way to add color and make a drawing vibrant.

As you introduced yourself also as a writer, how do you create in this medium?

My writing and my art are not usually directly tied together in the sense that I write prose in my sketchbook alongside a drawing, but occasionally I will illustrate something I’ve written to help bring a character to life in my mind. I almost exclusively write fiction, mostly in the third person, because I love the freedom it gives me to inhabit the minds of my characters while still getting the chance to invoke strong visuals and describe the setting, the characters, the world, etc.

How have your writings influenced your drawing? Have your drawings also influenced your writing?

Definitely. It’s funny because a year or two ago, my mom said she didn’t know whether she sees me as an artist who writes or a writer who draws. I love that she said that, and I think that is true about me. The way I write, the worlds I create and the kind of absurd, strange fantastical nature of my fiction definitely informs the way I draw. Even if it is just a few details, I prefer to give a character a little bit of a strange aspect.

I also think the way I describe people in my fiction is with the intention of making someone see the image or see something. I am a very visual person, just in life in general, so I really try to evoke images that help people see what I am describing and a lot of writers that I love do that so viscerally. I really see what they want me to see.

Papaya - Cameron Lee

Papaya - Cameron Lee

Are there any particular moments when you prefer to draw?

I think my favorite time to draw is first thing in the morning just because I love when there is a lot of natural light in my room. No one else is awake or moving around so I can just sit there in the silence or listen to music. And I’m more productive in the morning too, so I am really motivated to get stuff done when I first wake up.

How did you learn how to draw ?

I started drawing before I started learning how in school, but I took some level of elementary, middle school, and high school art classes before I came to Columbia. I think most of my early knowledge came from practice, outside of proportions or some other basic things I was taught in high school or before. I was (and still am) always drawing and looking at other people’s art. More recently I have learned a lot from my college classes, artists I’ve found online, museums I’ve had the privilege to visit, and my incredibly talented friends and classmates.

In that regard, would you say there is any difference in the creative process of producing works for classes and for yourself?

Yes, I definitely think so. I do most of my drawings in sketchbooks and they just happen on the fly, so there is not as much thought and planning that goes into those as what I draw for class projects. For example, I was in the Drawing II class last semester and we had a project which was supposed to be an enormous drawing. The professor wanted us to try and meld styles and techniques that we had and had not used before and so that lead me to think differently about the subject matter. Having some form of limitation or guideline definitely changes the way I decide to create. In that case, I did not want to do graphite for an enormous drawing so I used chalk pastel and some color pencil and charcoal - that directly informed the subject matter and the process.

Has your life influenced your work?

I think I can definitely speak to life influencing my work because when I was younger I would always be so freaked out if I made a mistake. I’d be like, “This drawing is ruined, I am going to throw it away.” I was very dramatic and my parents always told me that it was not the end of the world, that I could fix it; but at the time I was using crayons or Crayola markers so it wasn’t easy to erase or to go back. I think through high school my favorite medium was graphite because I could just erase it. My fear of making a mistake that would ruin the drawing drove me to a medium that was easily erasable. I am only realizing now, as I am using markers more, that I was so terrified of messing drawings up in the past I would use almost exclusively graphite and do pretty realistic drawings that took a long time so I could think a lot about my next moves. Now I think I am slowly losing that fear of making a mistake. So I just decided to use markers and let it go where it goes and see what happens. If I make a mistake or if I don’t like the final maybe someone else will like it; and if not it’s not the end of the world. Or so I have to keep reminding myself.

Building off of this, in what ways does your work express your identity?

I almost exclusively draw women, faces and bodies and part of that comes from the fact that I identify as a woman and for some reason it is instinctual for me to draw women. I haven’t thought a lot about why, but I am just really attracted to that area of art and that subject matter. I think I should probably try drawing men more because it might diversify my skill sets. But as of now I definitely think that I gravitate towards those themes because I am a woman and that is such an integral part of my identity.

What are the main themes you highlight? Do you want to communicate something through your drawings?

I think it’s kind of funny because I have been asked this question in the past and in different contexts: what is your art about? What are the themes? Do you mean to say anything with your work? I think the majority of the time, not necessarily. It is exciting if people can read into my art in certain ways, but most of the time it’s just aesthetically pleasing to me and for my own practice to explore different faces and bodies and positions and just learn and grow as an artist.

Medusa - Cameron Lee

Medusa - Cameron Lee

Why do you focus particularly on faces and bodies?

I started drawing faces initially because that is what you usually first see when you look at a person. You look at their face and you see their body in front of you and it was intrinsic to me to try to represent that and to put that on paper. This is also partly why I enjoy drawing women and figures. It is so fascinating to me to see how we all more or less have the same features on our faces but everyone ends up looking so different. I am really interested in representing the variety of people that exist: the diversity of life and figures, the way faces and bodies can move, and the way bodies and faces can represent different emotions. It is funny that I am saying that actually because all of my figures are making the same expression but that is not intentional; just an unfortunate default of mine. I’m working on it.

Have you ever drawn self-portraits?

I have done a couple. Maybe only once or twice voluntarily, mostly for class assignments. I am interested in doing one huge self-portrait of myself because I did a painting in high school of myself, but it has been a while. And I use pictures of my body and hands as references all the time, so it may be nice to see how well I can draw my face, or how I might draw my face. That’s something I’d like to explore more in the future.

Do you have any specific artists or individuals who inspire you?

I can name a few artists that I have been interacting with and learning about recently and that I find really inspiring. It’s funny because a lot of them are actually painters. One of them is David Hockney, who had an exhibit at the MET last year. I had not heard of him before then but I was so struck by the colors and how he represents his figures. It was one of the best exhibits I have ever been to. A lot of the painters I love inspire me to try my hand at painting more because I love what emotions painting can evoke in me.

I also love Frida Kahlo, because of the subject matter of her art and because of who she was. The rawness with which she painted is always inspiring to me.

Recently, I have also learned about Charles White, who was a mentor of Kerry James Marshall, and I love both of their work. I was at the Charles White retrospective at the MoMA and the way that his portraits moved me was crazy; I did not expect that. That is part of what I want to do in art: just make someone feel something. Then I feel I have succeeded, whether they are chuckling or sad or angry.

Living in New York and being able to go to all of those museums, and see all those paintings, drawings and sculptures in person always inspires me. On Sunday I was at the Wallach Art Gallery, looking at an exhibition called “Posing Modernity” about black figures in art. Just being able to stand there in front of a painting with no glass between us and seeing how the brushstrokes look and what rich colors were used really inspires me to go off and try to emulate or learn from that.

Also funnily enough, a lot of my inspiration does not come from famous artists but just artists that I follow on Instagram: random people that I find through having an art account, or people recommending things to me. I just love the creativity of artists such as @pollynor who draws women and their demons and touches upon sexuality and gender. Also @a.creature and @flesh.png who are not afraid of playing with color, figures or creepy and weird things and just messing around with sketchbooks, forms, and all sorts of techniques that I would love to be able to do one day with my art.

Are you working on any future projects? Do you have any specific goals?

I think future goals of mine would definitely be to further shed my reluctance to try things that make me uncomfortable. I would love to paint more in my free time, and not be afraid to pull out the watercolors or ink even though it might involve more time and effort than something else. I have never done oil so I would love to try oil painting for instance. I would also like to explore the darker side of my art and what it means to be a woman or a demon or both. I have always loved weird things and strange things and the idea that there might be another world. This is why I like imagining things that should exist outside of our world inside our world, marrying the strange with the normal, just to bring a little more fantasy and interest to everyday life. I would love to continue this exploration and broaden my horizons.

As far as future projects go, I would actually love to do a self-portrait. I have been thinking about that for a while and I never managed to do one for myself that I feel really happy about. There are also a couple of unfinished things in my sketchbooks that I need to get back to. I would also like to be more experimental. I do a little bit of digital art and I usually forget that I can do it because it is not at the forefront of my mind but I would love to get back to experimenting with it. Overall, just trying a lot of new things and not being afraid to mess up and not like something.


Photographed by Nico Lopez-Alegria

Interview by Courtney DeVita

Introduce yourself.

Hi I’m Kassia Karras. I’m a first year at Barnard. I grew up in Beijing, China for 15 years and then moved to Atlanta for high school. I went back and forth between the two growing up. I’m half Chinese, a quarter Greek, and a quarter Cherokee. I’m planning on double majoring in Art History with a concentration in Visual Arts and Political Science.

What were your first moments creating?

Art has always been part of my life. I started with finger painting when I was one year old, and honestly I don’t think I’ve made better abstract art since 2001. I’ve never been scared to use color, and I’ve been drawing all my life.

I started my art account in eighth grade. That negative social pressure that forces you to post on Instagram was kind of positive in terms of art because it forced me to create consistently and become part of the art community on Instagram. I got to see what other people my age were doing. A lot of the artists were also 14 and 15 and now they’re all 18 and 19, so I’ve gotten to see how they’ve grown too.

What role has social media had on your art making?

It can be a really positive business tool when the intentions are clear. My art account is mainly a digital portfolio and a way for me to commercialize my art and build an audience. When it comes to personal accounts it’s really a gray area, and kind of weird that we’re all mixing business and personal. The audience is also the creator, which is really confusing. I definitely like my art account better than my personal because everything is set out with clear cut intentions. I like being able to interact with all the other artists.

I’ve done collaborations with other small artists on Instagram and have gotten a lot of commission opportunities through illustrating people’s band covers. I just did a project with this Chinese children’s shoe company where I designed their logo and brand characters. I’ve gotten projects to illustrate for books. Instagram’s opened a lot of doors. Instagram is a great tool for artists in this day and age.

What mediums do you use?

I use Copic markers on Muji paper always. I hand draw everything and I also use my ink pens. Sometimes I’ll use water color and oil pastel, acrylic paint, oil paint, or charcoal. I use a lot of different mediums, but predominantly it’s pen and marker. Then I’ll scan the drawing and sometimes I’ll photoshop a digital background or color digitally.

Photograph by Nico Lopez-Alegria

Photograph by Nico Lopez-Alegria

How do you think growing up in two contrasting places has shaped your art?

Having lived in such vastly different and contrasting environments, it has taught me to learn from the differences. Comparing and contrasting, not only the two countries but how the people in them socialize and how different they behave, has shaped my worldview. I started thinking about the individual’s relationship to the environment once I moved to Atlanta, because I found the lifestyle to be so introverted and isolated compared to the city lifestyle. Everybody drives everywhere, and you rarely bump into friends. Whereas, in a city there’s a lot of chance and that’s definitely what I prefer - being able to walk everywhere, and not being able to plan everything. I try to incorporate that sense of spontaneity in my art.

In your artists statement you say your art style is superficially innocent, but underneath explores themes of corruption and deception. Can you expand on that?  

I like the idea of a lot of tension or contrast within an image. I just did a portrait of a young boy with really bright orange and green colors, but he’s sad. There’s a story built off of that tension and I like that with broader themes as well. I do a lot of pieces about deceptive things. I did this piece with pills and limbs coming out of them to talk about big pharma and the corruption within that. I’ve really been influence by Mark Ryden and Marion Peck. Their work is really pretty to look at but there’s a darker subtext that seeps through.

Can you talk a little bit about your use of animal and clown heads that pervade your illustrations?

I think the animals I draw are very unrealistic and more like toys or masks more than a literal animal. I really like the idea of playing with the masks we wear, because everyone has that persona they put on or multiple personas. Whenever I draw clowns or smiling animals it’s to display these different masks. I like the idea that you can’t tell what they’re really like or what they’re really thinking. You can only see what they’re presenting and that doesn’t always tell you a lot. It’s up to the viewer to interpret, but often times there aren’t a lot of clues so you end up feeling like you’re searching. I like to put a lot of different elements within a piece, so you can search around and uncover something.

Illustration by Kassia Karras

Illustration by Kassia Karras

How did your clothing brand, O.K. Fun, come about?

I got frustrated by online clothes shopping for graphic tees. I felt like artists with really cool art were holding back in terms of what they could do with their art in combining it with fashion. They simplify drawings. It just felt like there was another way to do it. I’m also interested in commercializing my art a little more. I think illustration is the base, but there’s so much more you can do with that. I just figured out Square Space and then I got a bunch of my friends from high school and we did a fun photoshoot. I wanted to limit the clothing line to seven or eight pieces. I definitely want to put out a new line soon for winter and spring with a more cohesive theme.

How did you decide on the name of the brand?

I thrifted this sweater that says, ‘bad fun,’ which I liked, but then I ran it by my dad and he suggested not to use a word with a negative connotation. I like ok fun because it’s like a neutral good - It’s not great fun, it’s just okay fun. It doesn’t expect too much from anyone. It has a very mellow vibe, which I think reflects the art and clothing.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a some of track and album covers for a couple of rappers, and a tattoo commission. I’m also doing illustrations for the Blue and White. In general, I’m trying to make more art. I want to get to a point where I have a cohesive series that would show in a gallery space. Whether that be paintings, or illustrations blown up on canvas, I think a show would be dope to put on, and maybe with other friends’ art and live music. My main goal is to just keep making art, I think that’s the best way to improve, to just keep making art.


Photography by Elle Wolfley

Interview by Alexa Silverman

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m Phanesia Pharel, a sophomore at Barnard from Homestead, Florida. An undeclared theatre major - what else am I going to do, to be honest?!

Describe your first moments of creating. Were you always interested in playwriting?

I started out performing, like a lot of people. I continue to perform when I can and however I can. When you’re a black woman in theater it’s different because acting can’t be as fulfilling as it is for other people. I remember when I was 10 or 11 - maybe middle school, 12 or 13 - and I was auditioning for Oklahoma. It’s a very classic American musical. I remember my drama teacher telling me I just didn’t fit the part for a character in the show. I don’t know if she meant it in that type of way but I was this very awkward, pudgy black girl with these sprouting dreadlocks - I wasn’t very palatable as a kid, I think. And I knew it. There are so many instances where I just don’t ‘look the part.'

My goal was to go into comedy. Stand up, sketch comedy. Sarah Silverman, of course Joan Rivers, Wanda Sykes, Ayesha Curry as well; I listened to these women and I was like, ‘This is so amazing, this is so funny, this is so fucking weird. I want to go into comedy.’ Then I did this public program [in my sophomore year of high school] that was for young kids to get them to write plays. It ended up not having anything to do with sketch or comedy writing, and it was all about playwriting. I fell in love. I started writing plays. Now that’s kinda my main gig, but I still perform and sing.

Was that your first introduction to playwriting?
Yeah. I read a bunch of plays the summer after I did the program, as well as an anthology of black plays from the 1400s to 1961. Junior fall I was a part of the Thespian Society. The Florida Thespian Festival is actually the biggest festival in the world; you can usually take three items to present or perform with you, in various categories of theatre. I took two performance pieces and did playwriting. I wrote this play about the public education system because I was super pissed off with the way me and my friends were being treated. A lot of shit was uncovered in the play: Trauma that I had experienced and feelings of how systems work to hold us down were unleashed… it was nice to be able to step aside and have a say over my education, because that’s a privilege I wasn’t afforded until that moment.

I took it to the Miami Festival and it won Critics Choice, which is first place, and then to the State Festival where it won first place again. It was selected for the International Thespian Festival and workshopped, and it was published by Samuel French (they publish plays. They actually have the largest collection of Latinx playwrights).

What was it called?


Was that the first play you wrote?

It was the first play I finished.

Where do you first start in a creative project?
It’s different for every project. With “Penelope,” I knew what I wanted to do. I had images - it’s very different from any other play I’ve written. I just sat down and wrote the treatment (a short summary of what’s going to happen). I wrote the first draft, which was 12 pages, and kept writing and I got to 30.

Describe your process of writing.

I feel like sometimes when I’m writing it’s like I’m walking, like I’m looking for pictures. Maybe I’m at a museum and it’s very foggy, and I’m walking, and I’m like ‘Oh, I see this, I see that, oh these two people are talking to each other, I can sort of hear what they’re talking about. Let me guess what they’re talking about.’ As I continue, maybe I get one really clear image, and I see a conversation. And it continues and it continues and it continues and it continues. I knew I wanted to leave the summer with a full length, and I finished it in a month.

(Note: in the fall of 2017, Phanesia’s play “The Revolution Will Now be Televised” was produced by the Black Theater Ensemble at Barnard). What is it like to see your work performed and given life?

If I like [the work], it’s the most amazing feeling in the world. If I don’t like it, it can be really hard to write. It’s really crazy because you have built a world, whether it be an altered version of the one you’re in now or a completely different one. I’m so happy that I discovered playwriting. I feel very lucky. If I were just an actor I don’t think I’d ever be fully fulfilled. Just me personally, everyone’s different. Acting is amazing; actors bring so much to the script, but I like to build worlds. You can’t build worlds as an actor. You can build a character in a world; you can add to it; you can be the paint, but to build a world you have to write. Writing is my salvation, but performing is my essence. You can’t separate the two.

Now that I think about it more I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I would never be who I am today if I didn’t write plays.’ I wrote plays after “Penelope,” and some of them were taken to festivals, which is cool. It’s been really dope seeing them put up.

How has your work changed since coming to Barnard?

I have written several plays, from one minute to five minutes, and a full length [play] that I’m working on. Since coming to Barnard I’m a lot more confused on writing things that interest me rather than doing it for other people. Just because a play is political doesn’t mean it is actually good.

Are you involved in theater on campus?

One of my plays, called “Zoo Story,” was actually done during Wordplay, last fall semester at Columbia. It was also put up in LA. It was about people zoos, which still now is a thing - just we don’t know about it. [People zoos are] people who are considered exotic held up for exhibition, which is an interesting concept. Capitalist gain and sick fantasy; white supremacy.

Right now I’m a part of XMAS!13, which is a secular spectacular musical that happens every fall at Columbia. I’m writing lyrics. It’s really hard to write an entire musical in a semester - really, less than a semester - because you have to give the students time to learn it. It’s a low high pressure environment you’re writing one musical and setting decent deadlines for everyone’s mental health. Last semester I auditioned for shows, and XMAS was the one in which I got to do the most creative thing: be Assistant Director. Student theater is super cool. And XMAS’s thing is XMAS is for everyone. It is really awesome.

Do you think playwriting is an accessible hobby for young students?

It’s super accessible. I think the most oppressive thing to a playwright is Shakespeare. It’s not even his fault - it’s his fanbase. Like Lady Gaga is great but her fans are the worst. That’s Shakespeare, his fans are the worst. Test makers, professors, and reading lists pretend Greek theatre and other forms of classics don’t exist. It’s limiting. They’re all fans of Shakespeare, to the point that I’m like, ‘Have you read any other playwright?’ It’s such a disservice. We live in two different worlds. I think it’s really sad that people say Shakespeare is the greatest playwright or the greatest literary figure of all time. How do we expect young writers to feel like anything they’ll do will be valid when the peak of writing has already come?

What factors do you take into account when writing a play?

I think it is better if you just write whatever the play is. If you’re thinking about factors of other people before the play is written, or before the first draft, you’re going to get stuck. That’s happened to me in previous drafts. Where I am right now is that I just write the play when I feel like it - when I have the fire.

When do you write and what inspires you to write?

I usually write during breaks but after I met Ntozake Shange I felt energized to write. So I did. Next semester I hope to write more.

How does your work express your identity, and what themes do you often feature in your work?

Usually my plays are centered around black women, but I’m writing a play right now and I don’t think there is [one]. That’s really weird, but it’s also cool. It’s limiting, the idea that black women always have to center their work around black women. It can be liberating but it’s absolutely limiting. If I’m building a million different worlds, there’s going to be worlds where certain people just aren’t in them at the moment.

I also think if you’re building a million different worlds as a writer. The people who have written 100 plays, and they’ve never considered a person of color or a queer person or a disabled person or a person living within the margins, you have to really reevaluate that. It doesn’t need to be on the stage; it doesn’t need to take up space.

What is the value of theater for you?

Theater is one of the most precious things humanity has - and theater looks like a million different things. A bunch of people go into a room, and you [the audience] build a relationship within two hours with the playwright, the character, the actors, and everyone who is working backstage. Everyone knows you’re watching a play, when you’re watching a play, but you actually believe it. If you can believe that you’re in a room of people and that they are something other than what they are, that I think means you can believe in so much more. People who are like, ‘I don’t believe the world can be a better place; if you can fucking watch your TV and believe that Sarah Silverman is Miss America (in her show), then you can believe the world can be a better place. It gives me hope. You can actually make people believe anything, and theater is proof of that.


Photography by India Halsted

Interview by Eliza Jouin

Introduce yourself.

Hi, I'm Ling, I'm a sophomore at Barnard College, and my main art medium is metalwork and jewelry.

You've done a lot of art throughout your life. What made you choose to start working with metal?

I started in 8th grade, and then I took it every single year of high school. After my junior year, I got into Metals Intensive at my school, which met the same amount of time as math class or English class would; you're in the studio a lot. Metalwork offered me a form of art where I felt successful, in that I was able to effectively create the products I envisioned, in a way I can't in 2D art. This is probably why I don't like drawing, because I can envision things and the reality of it ends up looking terrible. Whereas with metalwork, I'm actually able to produce what I want to.

Can you describe to me your artistic process from when you conceive something all the way to when you present it?

I feel like I'm a very organized, detail-oriented person, which is probably why I like metals so much. You need a certain thought process to know how all the moving parts are going to come together. You have to be conscious of the order in which you construct your piece. You can’t move on to something prematurely, because often times you can’t go back. For example, you can’t go back to solder something once you’ve attached something flammable. So much of it is having a really good outline to start with and knowing what all the steps you need to take are, and ultimately what you're trying to make. But then also, there's this weird paradox because at any moment, you could literally melt your piece to a ball. It's terrifying. So it's about figuring out what to do now and being able bounce back.

What kind of metals do you prefer to work with to create your jewelry?

In high school, we only had access to copper, silver, and brass, and my favorite is brass. I really don't like copper - something about the color. Whereas when brass gets oxidized, it comes into this really nice antique look. It's not as brash as gold or expensive as gold, but it's a nice cheap alternative that ends up having an earthy look.

Echoes of Tears - Ling Groccia

Echoes of Tears - Ling Groccia

Since there aren't any metalworking classes here at Columbia/Barnard to create this specific type of 3D art, what's your creative outlet here?

It's been really upsetting to not be able to do studio art classes here. But I did get into embroidery this summer. I’ve wanted to try embroidery ever since I came across Jessica So Ren Tang, this Asian-American artist from San Francisco. She’s amazing. Her work examines exoticism and Chinese stereotypes. She embroiders portraits of sexualized asian women, but then their skin is filled in with embroidered traditional Chinese patterns. For me, her work speaks to the ways in which identity voices itself in art. She also does 3D embroidery, which is insane.

Okay, so it's @jessicasorentang on Instagram.

She's super cool and she deserves so much attention.
So I got into embroidery, and I've been recently trying to figure out how I can do metalwork at school or in New York City. The new Barnard design center seems like a good opportunity. They don't have any metalwork stuff, but they have a lot of equipment for woodworking, so maybe I'll back get into that.

Going back to what you were saying about that artist that inspired you to start doing embroidery, are there any artists that you really look up to or that have inspired your work?

Todd Pownell does really amazing channel setting, and kudos to anyone who does diamond setting because I had a diamond setting project once and it's the worst thing ever. It's a pain in the ass. But he does really stunning diamond setting where he'll have a ring or a bracelet or something and the metal on top will be super textured but there's this channel of diamonds or stones where it looks like somehow the earth is cracked and reveals this horde of diamonds underneath. When I make jewelry, I see myself tending towards representations of nature. I love creating a juxtaposition of a representation of nature in metal, and duplicating nature in something that's so cold and not natural.

Do you feel that your life experience has influenced your art, and if so, how does that manifest itself?

I am a pretty firm believer that your identity and your life experience ends up manifesting itself in your products. I'm less sure in the "how:" the visual ways I can see identity in my work. I'm thinking about my tiara piece, and going in I knew I wanted to incorporate thread. For me, one visual image I keep with me is the Chinese mythology of the red thread. This red thread represents the bloodline that connects everything and everyone. Making this tiara was my one biggest meltdown of highschool: the night before it was due I had to thread all of it and it was just a mess! But I'm so glad how it came out.

One thing I've been reckoning with, this year especially, is as a Chinese adoptee, how much can I claim authenticity to my Chinese identity? I've written a lot of things recently on self-exoticism and finding the balance and knowing what you're exoticizing. I feel this attachment to things like the tiara. I named it "Unearthed Empress" which is kind of cliché, but because it's so dirty now because of air and decay it looks like it could have honestly been in the dirt for a year or something! But feeling those connections, and also after making them, being like “do I have the right to make those connections and claim these feelings?”

Unearthed Empress - Ling Groccia

Unearthed Empress - Ling Groccia

Tell me more about your Unearthed Empress project mentioned earlier.

The way Metals Intensive worked was each term you had a term project. For that term, the project was called the "Add It Up challenge," and all these different techniques and materials had a different number of allotted points, and you had to get up to 500 points. So like the use of enamel was 20 points, cold solder seams was this amount of points. You definitely had to get creative. So I ended up using the gems and the thread in it.

You also won an award for it, right?

Yeah, that was nice! We sent things to the globe show which is the Boston Scholastic show, and if it gets a Gold Key; it goes on to the national level. The tiara one won gold at the national level, which I’m incredibly grateful for.

You also have a human body series, can you tell me more about that?

My human body series explores how you can replicate and represent nature out of something seemingly so hard and inflexible as metal. There's the heart piece, the lungs, and a piece inspired by mitosis. I really loved making the heart. To make it, I used chasing and repoussée, which was a requirement for a term project. Basically, you have this pot of tree sap and you heat it up and put the flat piece of metal in. Then you use different hammers and tools to make whatever 3D shape you want. It's incredible to see the depth you can get out of a single piece of copper. I had to use copper; you can only put copper in this certain type of tree sap, but I ended up covering it. If you look closely, it has my fingerprints in a red design all over it!

What is your favorite thing that you've made?

I really liked making the lungs. Weirdly because is was so much torch soldering, which is a real pain in the butt. Basically, the frame of the two lung cages is all made out of wire. Each piece is a different piece of wire, so soldering it to make it look seamless is hard. You have to hold it in place while you heat one part up, making sure all the other solder seams don't come undone. It's a lot of work but I remember when I was doing it and then filing after; I usually hate filing but being able to get that flushness was so satisfying. And the fact it opened after, I really liked that. To give it mobility. And the red thread, coming back to it.

Beating Heart - Ling Groccia

Beating Heart - Ling Groccia

Given that metalwork is generally perceived as a more manual and difficult form of art, how do you feel societal conceptions of masculinity and femininity play a role in your art? Do you feel as if you're breaking gender norms through doing this? Does it play a role?

There definitely is a sort of industrial-ness to it, which I really like. I really liked taking woodshop in 6th or 7th grade for some reason. I think it spoke to me more because of the type of labor, and I was actually able to produce something I wanted out of the industrial materials.

As to femininity, the things I make are more feminine. I haven't thought about this too much, but I think part of the juxtaposition that I like between metal and nature is the relationship of something industrial used to make something so delicate. Obviously metal is still natural, but doesn't have that same edifice.

Do you have any ideas for works in the future?

Recently, not being at a studio, I've been brainstorming a lot of pieces I want to make. I’ve been really in to oysters and freshwater pearls and believe that their movement and organic shape would look really amazing represented in metal. I also really like bees, and want to make a pair of bee earrings in brass where the abdomen is this amber-colored gem. I love how earthy, orange colors add nuanced depth and warmth to gold and brass.

Do you have any advice for people interested in learning about making jewelry and getting into metalwork?

I would say it's definitely something to try, just because it's such a different skill set. I feel like we rarely use our hands in that sort of industrial capacity, or in that type of art. In general, sculpture and 3D art should be something we teach people.


Photography by Natalie Tischler

Interview by Yosan Alemu

Before we start, can you briefly introduce yourself?

Right. My name is Aja Isabel. I’m a sophomore in Columbia College, majoring in history with a concentration in  human rights. My DJ name is 7_100, because that was the license plate of a car we’ve had in the family for years—and I listened to a lot of music in that car—my baby. I’d describe myself as a DJ, a radio host, and an occasional producer. I’m very self-critical and a huge audiophile, which makes producing hard as I’m always looking for perfection, but having music and being able to DJ has been vital to my happiness here at college.

How did you find out about music production and what's your history with music?

I was raised in a household that valued and appreciated music. My parents, baby boomers and children of the 70s, have vast catalogs of music that I was exposed to from nearly birth. My dad, for example, loves classic rock, but also rap, and my mom loves the Dave Matthews Band, but also R&B—pretty incongruous. They both love jazz, which I hated at first, too—as an angsty kid who despised it just because they loved it so much, and because I felt like I was exposed to jazz almost to the point of excess—but now I can’t get enough of it. As a kid, all friends were listening to things like Radio Disney and Kidz Bop. That was just not a thing in my house, at all. Looking back, I’m so grateful, because I got to hear real music from such a young age. With music production, my older brother actually got me interested in being a DJ. He got me set up with an old deck he no longer needed, and things took off from there. For years, I was always messing around on Garage Band—but eventually got pretty good on both that and a board. And now, I love mixing, as I think mixing old songs with newer ones bring certain songs back to life that may not be so mainstream anymore.

Do you think social media influences the way people consume art, especially music?

That's hard. But I think especially now, when albums are released, they sometimes lose their fullness. I feel like we don’t get the same sense of ‘entirety’ in an album because things like social media require such a high demand of production from artists, so they always feel like they need to always have music out.

Are there any life experiences or moments that have shaped you as a person and are reflected in the way you make or mix music?

Well, one moment I can think of was when I was pretty young, and at my first Steely Dan concert. I was so mesmerized by the way the group grabbed the audience’s attention and engaged with everyone in the crowd. Music isn’t just about making a tune, it’s also about interacting with people at an intimate level. When I'm deejaying, I keep that in mind. I want people to leave with an experience they’ll remember. It's not going to be a Steely Dan level of experience, but it can be somewhat close.

How does being a black woman influence your work? Are you conscious of your identity? And if so, how do you perceive identity in music and production?

It’s one thing being a female deejay, but it’s another to be both black and woman on the deejay scene. It’s like being a unicorn. I take pride in knowing that. The music world, especially music production has been dominated by white men, like Calvin Harris, Skrillex, and Martin Garrix. I can’t list off of the top my head a single female black DJ who has the same popularity or platform as these white, male DJs. That’s why Missy Elliot is such a role model for me. She’s been in this for decades, producing, mixing, and making music. She’s literally defied the odds.

How does sampling play a part in creating music, and does it help or harm the quality of music?

For my WBAR show, I recently did a West Coast rap episode where I was going through the discography of West Coast rappers. Tupac, for example, is especially known for sampling. People often think sampling is stealing music from other artists, but I think it provides a really cool opportunity to create something new, to create a different experience that gives older, often less-popular songs a second—or third—life, It’s also a really great way for artists to uplift and incorporate lesser known musicians.

Earlier, you mentioned that Missy Elliot was one of your role models. Who are your others?

I also love Pharrell; he has such a distinct sound. You can almost always tell if a song was produced by him just by listening to the first 15 seconds. I also love Kaytranada. Whether it be remixes of songs by Janet Jackson or Teedra Moses, he always manages to breathe new life back into classics. And he pays close attention to his roots when he makes music. Kaytranada is Haitian by way of Canada, and it’s really interesting to see the ways in which he combines the musical culture of both places into his work.

If you could pick one song to be your all-time favorite, which one would it be?

I would say ‘Black Cow’ by Steely Dan, because that song is everything.


Interview and photography by India Halsted 

Introduce yourself.

I’m Sophie. I’m a senior at Barnard and an artist. I’m majoring in Art History and Visual Art. I was born in Los Angeles and raised in Northern California.

What were your first moments of creating?

I was exposed to a lot of art when I was quite young: in the home, in museums, through conversations, through family members that are artists. There was a specific period of time when a group of friends and I would see gallery and museum shows and re-create the work.

Who are the artists who influence your work?

Lisa Oppenheim, Emily Jacir, Rachel Whiteread, and Lorna Simpson have in large ways influenced my thesis. I am also very influenced by Eva Hesse.

What materials do you work with? How would you describe them?

They tend to be malleable, organic, and non-rigid – like wax and cheesecloth. I want to play with resin too. I am attracted to its luminosity: the way it glows and the way it can take form.

What classes have most informed your work?

Though it’s hard to locate a specific class, Leslie Hewitt’s “Freestyle and Displacement” had and continues to have particular influence on my work. In large part because of its focus on representations of cultural trauma: trauma of dispossession and diaspora. Leslie renewed my faith in the political power of abstraction. The Atlas Group’s work is a very good example of this subtle strength. So is Leslie’s – it’s quiet but deeply political.

Describe your studio space. Is it a place of exhibition? For yourself? For others?

It’s an exhibition space for myself, but then in the case of the open studios it’s a way to collectively open up the class’s thinking. When others enter the studio the thinking is on display in addition to the work.

How would you describe your artistic process and when would you say a work is finished?

Sometimes it’s clearer than others. Ultimately an artwork is finished for me when it feels that the work can stand. I always have my hands in a lot of places which helps because I don’t just have this linear way of saying “this is started” and “this is done.” Because I work so fluidly, I often find resonances between projects.

Describe your series “We Are Not On Solid Ground.”

The fires in Santa Rosa and Hurricane Irma happened right as I was beginning to think about what I wanted to make for the semester.  I wasn’t preparing to respond to the trauma of natural disasters. That is the source of the images for “We Are Not On Solid Ground." The theoretical grounding came from an idea in a documentary film class last year. We read an essay by André Bazin, “The Ontology of the Photographic Image.” Bazin describes a film of a bullfight in which the bullfighter dies. He then recounts his own uncanny experience of seeing the bullfighter’s death a second time when watching the film on a different afternoon. Change is ‘mummified’ in film for Bazin; film makes death repeatable. So, I was interested in this idea of mummification as the repetition of  trauma.

What about these two events inspired you? Is it their timeliness or their personal significance?

I was feeling particularly affected by the news at the time. I was trying to insulate myself and so the work was a way to not insulate myself. And in the case of the fires I was particularly unsettled because they happened just half an hour away from where I grew up. I was looking at images of the fires in The New York Times. They were incredibly beautiful images – charred ground and soft pink skies, and that was unsettling. I was curious if the images of [Hurricane] Irma, which was happening simultaneously, would be equally romantic. I think beauty was a point of entry for me. Because these horrific disasters were photographed so beautifully, I could look at them and there was a sense of stillness as something captured. There is a dichotomy between the stillness of the image and my repetition of it through mummification.

How do you define mummification and what does this process mean to your work?

Mummification alludes to the journalistic original. It’s also a kind of psychoanalytic process. The masking (through gauze and wax, or in another case, Neosporin) re-enacts repression but at the same time it’s also a preservation, a way to bring the repressed material to light.

How is material important to “We Are Not On Solid Ground”?

The images are printed on vellum, which is a sort of filmic material. It’s an inkjet print that I wrapped in cheesecloth and embalmed in wax. This series in particularly was largely inspired by Eva Hesse but also by the idea of the wound, the materials that might dress a wound. Yet these dressings don’t necessarily fix anything. It’s a kind of naive attempt. With some of the works, like one image of charred washing machines, you can see the impression of the turkey pan – there are these domestic traces.

How do you separate the work of taking photos and borrowing and embalming images?

I recently got disenchanted with producing images given that I experience so many images. Relevant to all the work is the assembly of images or the assembly of an experience of images. There are these associative networks between each of the projects [some integrate the same events] which a part of me identifies as nebulous, but it  is also a psychoanalytic logic.

Does the process of mummification bring you closer or farther away from the original?

It’s hard to call myself a witness because I wasn’t there. I try to emphasize my distance in all of my work and yet I think of my work as a kind of bearing witness. The process of mummification represents my distance but it also brings me closer because I needed to work through these events. I didn’t just want to hear about the ash that was falling on my friend’s car in Los Angeles when Southern California was ravaged with fires soon after [those in Santa Rosa] and not process it. There’s the witnessing and experiencing of these images and then there’s also its aftereffects. The aftermath of these events carried with them an atmosphere, both environmentally and psychologically.

Photography always raises the question of the original. But calling these appropriated images ‘sources’ rather than ‘originals’ more closely approximates what I’m trying to do.

Describe your series “Picturing.”

The name “Picturing" came to me as a way of saying that I was documenting, a kind of journalism of journalism, one or two steps removed. It locates myself. I applied Neosporin to my camera lens, which is a Pictorialist technique. Stieglitz used petroleum jelly to create a romantic effect, to make photography more painterly. I first saw this technique in this Man Ray’s film “Étoile de Mer.” It followed from” We are not on stable ground” to use Neosporin as another way to to mummify images, a more integrated affront than before. In this case [using Neosporin] was a way for me make the digital image more sculptural and material.

What about films or specific films inspire you or your work?

I think back to certain moments of stillness or repetition. There is a scene in Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim” where Catherine is laughing and her laughter stills, then continues, stills, then continues. Or at the very end of the “400 Blows” when Antoine is suddenly freezes running on the beach. I think these examples were initial ways for me to think about photography and film. This reflexive thinkingthat the moving image is composed of stills informs my work. Chris Marker’s film “La Jetée” has this archival quality.

Describe your current project “Junior.”

I’ve been collecting junior pilot wings, the pins you are given on planes as a kid, in thinking about totems of safety. In my work that there is also this concern of nuclear warfare. I was thinking of the sky and atmosphere and these junior pilot wings  came as a sort of solution. I soon found that photographs I took of the wings had more weight than the wings themselves. I wanted to play with the apparatus of display so I decided to use a commercial, museological postcard display so that viewers would be able to take them. So that they can carry a talisman. I liked the idea of passage, of publicly locating yourself, and I was thinking of On Kawara’s work.

I’m still in the process of theoretically framing them in all honesty. I went to the March for Our Lives yesterday and was really moved by the signs children had written. It really changed how I defined the wings and made me think, could they be voices unheard? What could they locate? What could they demand? I’m leaning towards putting these slogans on the back of these postcards vertically as a structural aspect. I want to leave space for other people to write.

How do you reconcile physical and cultural trauma with collective loss in your work?

I’m not exactly sure if these are concepts that need to be reconciled, but they are definitely all at play. Rosalyn Deutsche introduced me to an interesting rereading of Freud’s “Mourning And Melancholia.” For Freud, one withdraws from the world in response to trauma or loss. This is what he calls depressive melancholia. So what’s interesting about these works, “There is No Threat” in particular, is that they seek out another form of melancholia. Jonathan Flatley uses the term non-depressive melancholia to say there is a form of melancholia that leads to an interest in the world rather than a withdrawal from it. That through one’s own losses you can attach to others’ losses.

Is part of being an artist being sensitive?

I think sensitivity is essential to my work. Anxiety has taken on physical effects and that’s the juxtaposition I’m abstractly making in “There is No Threat” with the clinical swabs. It brings two languages together – the language of safety alerts (which I’ve screenshotted) of the false ballistic missile threat in Hawaii this January and the language of medical props. I’m trying to infuse a sense of healing but also of fragility or vulnerability.

Where do you see your work going in the future?

I’m very responsive and I typically have a lot of threads at any given time so it’s difficult to see exactly where my work will take me.

That said, I collected newspapers from the day of the Los Angeles fire – I bought about twenty of them. I’ve thought about dipping them in wax or stacking them.

In terms of my own plans, I will be in New York next year doing what I’m not sure but surely maintaining an art practice. I ultimately plan to get an MFA.

Nudity vs Nakedness

Interview by Maeve Flaherty, artwork by Amanda Ba

The shades in Dodge 501 are drawn, but the morning sun seeps in and mingles with the powerful overhead spotlights. They’re focused on a woman in the nude, who sits upright on a throne-like chair draped with flowing green fabric. Around her, twenty artists glance between her and their paper, capturing her figure on the page.

The model will spend the next two hours moving between positions as she models for one of Columbia University Artist’s Society’s twice-weekly figure drawing sessions. The sessions are free to the public and organized by Artist’s Society, a student-run Columbia club that provides studio time for the artistic community.

The models, who are paid and treated like any professional artistic model, are nonetheless faced with a unique challenge. Drawn from the Columbia student population, the single session they model for Artist’s Society is often their first time being naked in public. And they do it in front of their friends, classmates, people they’ve seen in dining halls and on College Walk- people they are very likely to encounter again.

To learn more about the student models, I interviewed Artist’s Society board member and graphic designer, Amanda Ba, CC’20. Ba rolled into our meeting on her trusty pink scooter. She explained that the models, who sign up by filling out a google form with availability at the beginning of each year, are selected alphabetically from a list of names. The length of the list means that the model is different for each session and Columbia students are normally only selected once in their four years.

I asked Ba what makes a good model. She explained, “It’s somebody who has versatility with their poses. This allows artists room to be more stylistic in how they choose to draw a body– because a body is a body, but you can play on it. Someone who will twist and create curves and folds and angles and convexes in their body. A pristine, beautiful body is actually the most boring body. What is more fun to draw is curves, undulations.”

Francisco Alvidrez, CC’19, was up to the challenge. “At the beginning,” he said, “I was doing weird, difficult positions. I was like, ‘Well, here’s how I can contort my body for you today.’”

As an artist himself and an architecture major, Alvidrez saw nude modeling as a creative exercise. He explained, “It was important to me, as somebody who makes the art and also as someone who partakes in it all, to be on both ends. To create with my body or with materials.”

The model is an active participant in the art created. In the Artist’s Society sessions, the model’s job is not to simply stand on the block-- it is to move in a way that pushes and inspires the artists.

Virginia, BC’19, had never modeled in the nude before. She found the creative conversation between artist and model surprisingly empowering. “Whenever I changed positions,” she explained, “I was presenting new challenges to them. I don’t know much about drawing people myself, so I assumed that I would be less in-charge because I couldn’t control how my body was being represented, but I actually had a lot of agency.” She added, “I thought it was a cool exercise, choosing how to represent my own body so that other people could represent me.”

But the line between choosing how to represent the body and being represented is thin. Inherent in the experience is a lack of control.

Alvidrez, who is very comfortable with his body, didn’t find the experience frightening or unpleasant. Still, he recognized the limits of his agency: “I’m completely naked on this block, in the middle of a room, surrounded by a bunch of people who I don’t know, who are drawing every knick and cranny of my body. It’s one of the most apparent affronts to my body-- I have no say over what people are drawing of my body. If they want to draw my left nipple, they can spend twenty minutes drawing it. Or they could be spending that same amount of time on my foot. It doesn’t matter. For me, it’s really weird that I am in total control of the situation but at the same time extremely vulnerable.”

Artist’s Society recognizes that vulnerability and tries to make their models comfortable. On the physical level, they offer a private changing space and keep a heater next to the stage on cold days. On a more emotional level, they make sure to talk to each model when they arrive to make sure they are clear on what will happen over the course of the session.

But at the end of the day, the model has to find it in themselves to get up on the block. Ba explained, “A good model is someone who is comfortable with themselves, who knows what they are getting into-- it doesn’t mean that they have to have done it before. But they have to have their minds wrapped around ‘Yes, I am going to be naked in front of a bunch of people but they aren’t going to sexualize me, this is in an artistic pursuit.’”

Artist’s Society emphasizes that the modeling is artistic, not sexual. Before the model enters each session, the organizers repeat a quick code of conduct on how to handle the session: don’t take photos, etc. To make sure the model feels safe, the artists are not allowed to instruct the models on how to pose their bodies.

For Virginia, that element of control was key. “One time, a guy suggested I stand up and the person coordinating the event quickly said ‘If you’re comfortable.’ I did stand up, but I didn’t feel like I had been forced into doing something I wouldn’t have done otherwise. I did it because I was like ‘Why not?’”

Virginia didn’t feel uncomfortable or sexualized. She said, “I didn’t know anyone and I could tell that they were not looking at me in a creepy, gazy way. They are looking at you and trying to capture you on the page. I felt really safe.”

Isaiah Feldman-Schwartz, CC’18, agreed. He’s modeled for Artist’s Society twice, and both times enjoyed the experience. “Something I really appreciate about the Artist’s Society is that it very much doesn’t feel like a sexualized space at all. It was like, ‘I’m standing here naked and that’s only weird if you think it’s weird.’ They’re here to do figure drawing, I’m here to model for the figure drawing, and it is what it is. Everybody was very professional.”

For a student modeling in front of other students, a professional and artistic attitude is key. Most nude models can show up to their job, do it, and leave, not worrying about running into the artists. But at the Artist’s Society sessions, the attendees are mostly either students or Morningside Heights residents. For many of the models, they will walk into a room and recognize one or several of the artists they are about to be naked in front of.

Although Feldman-Schwartz didn’t tell his friends about his modeling beforehand, a friend happened to be at his second session. It was “slightly more awkward,” he said. “In particular, it felt that way because it was someone of the opposite gender. Which I would be lying if I said didn’t factor into my consciousness. But it didn’t feel like a big problem. It was more of an awareness. I was like ‘don’t make too much eye contact, don’t be weird about it.’”

Like Feldman-Schwartz, Francisco Alvidrez knew several people in the room. During his session, both friends and classmates of his were drawing. Alvidrez felt more comfortable with the strangers present. “I think had no one I know been there,” Alvidrez said, “I would have been a lot more comfortable, but the fact that I knew people there didn’t hinder my experience or make me more nervous.”

Still, although Alvidrez was didn’t really mind seeing people he knew on the day of the session, he did mind the way the modeling bled into his later life. Several times after his session, people approached him in Morningside Heights to compliment him on his modeling. Alvidrez explains thinking, “I’m at a restaurant, why are you complimenting me on my nude modeling? I appreciate the compliment, but at the same time it’s like ‘why is this necessary right now?’”

Alvidrez felt comfortable during his session, but the later encounters broke the boundaries that Artist’s Society carefully constructs between model and artist. Those boundaries are fragile, and require the commitment of all artists and models to maintain a respectful distance between what happens during and after the session.

After being approached in public while eating a meal by someone from the session, Alvidrez wondered, “When does people practicing stop and sexualization start?”

In Virginia’s experience, the boundary between body and art form was clarified the second she stepped off the block. When Virginia finished her session and started to put her clothes back on in the back of the room, she assumed that after two hours in the nude, it didn’t matter where she got dressed. One of the organizers approached her and offered the privacy of a curtained corner to put her clothing back on. Virginia said, “I realized that once I wasn’t the subject anymore, it was like we were people interfacing in public, as public as a classroom is again.”

In that moment, the difference between nakedness and nudity became clear. Virginia: “Then I was naked, and then I needed privacy to change. When you’re in the setting where you’re the person everyone is looking at, then you’re nude.”

The nude model walks that line between naked and nude. The art critic John Berger wrote in his seminal text, Ways of Seeing, “To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude.”

Amanda Ba agreed. She explained, “Naked is a state, right? Naked is ‘I am naked now but I will be clothed later.’ It’s almost like a noun, not an adjective.” In Ba’s opinion, nude is something else entirely: “You are using it to describe the visual term for a human body. It’s just ‘the nude’. When we have nude figure drawing sessions, you aren’t looking at somebody and saying ‘Oh, they’re naked,’ because you are seeing them in a naked context. You are like, this is just a beautiful form for me to depict.”

This difference between naked and nude is key to how the models and artists approach the artistic interaction they take part in. For Ba, nudity reduces or purifies the body to a form for artistic interpretation. For Francisco Alvidrez, the word nude has sexual connotations. He said, “Nude for me seems sexualized, and naked doesn’t. For me people being naked was always some nonsexual situation or not even fully undressed, but nude seems more charged with that connotation.”

For him, the sexual connotations of the word nude shaped how he experienced the session. He said, “We use it for this nude modeling. Maybe that’s why I had that thought of prevailing sexualization with my body. I associate that word, nude, with sex or with some charged other meaning. I was more in tune with that sensation afterwards.”

As much as Artist’s Society tries to present the session as a vacuum, a space in which the interplay between model and viewer is entirely artistic, it cannot block out the outside world. Each model walks into the session with their own understanding of their body and the meaning of being unclothed. They bring that perspective with them as they model for their classmates, and back out onto the Columbia campus.

I asked Feldman-Schwartz if he felt more naked or nude during his time modeling for Artist’s Society.

He responded without hesitation.

“I felt naked.”

[Artist’s Society’s figure drawing sessions occur twice-weekly, every Friday from 6pm to 8pm and every Saturday from 10am to 12pm in Dodge 501. They are free and open to the public.]




Photography by Evelyn Wolfley

Interview by Yosan Alemu

I know that you express yourself through various different mediums; visual art, poetry, music, modeling, etc. How did you find these avenues?

I feel like in a lot of ways I was forced to find my art through more than one avenue because I think about art in terms of concepts. I think this can be attributed to my artist mentors. I was part of a nonprofit, and I was in this program, being taught by these really dope black conceptual artists who were working and doing their own thing while they were teaching other black or low income youth to make their own art and to make it really dope. So being raised under them, I was taught that your art has to have a concept behind it, and it doesn't necessarily always have to be political. I mean you could go off of the idea that the personal is political, and a lot of times, with black artists it is inherently that way. But because my art was centered around having a concept, or a language, I think there was never a time where I thought I could just do that through visual art. I felt like I had to do it through different mediums whether it be sculpture or just in general like creating a sense or an experience for the person who's consuming my art.

When you’re creating, do your different mediums of art ever overlap?

I definitely think so. When it comes to making clothes–for me at least–I definitely think of them visually. I think of them in a certain scene, and I didn't always realize this until somebody asked me where ideally I would like my clothes to be worn. And I was like "Oh I think of living in a post-apocalyptic world where niggas only listen to Missy Elliot and white people don't exist." And afterwards, I was like "Damn, I actually have an entire set up here”, and this is what it felt like when I started exploring that more, and then getting into being the photographer of my work. Clothes mean a lot to me because of the statements they make, and when I started to actually play around with how my clothes look in a visual sense, I started imagining what this specific world would be like, and how that reflects my experience as a black woman. In my art, I like to create worlds for black kids where they feel comfortable, where they are free to imagine and create concepts of their own.

When you’re creating a photoshoot, what is the process like?

Good question. I think it depends every time. Usually I’ll look at my clothing and then ask myself where I would want the pieces to exist. I also like to pair the clothes with a location that I have in mind just because the scenery is very important to me. For example, you know the idea that the people you see in your dreams are actually people you’ve come across in your conscious life? That’s how I see the locations I choose. I'll drive by a parking lot at night and realize this location is pretty dope, and I’ll go from there. And so, I come up with the location and then I come up with somebody who could fit the clothes I’ve made, and not to sound cheesy, but we build from there, start adding things until literally the very last minute. It’s a very interactive process.

What is your favorite clothing item? Favorite accessory?

Accessories. Period.

If you could consume one medium of art for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I feel like I'm kind of cheating, but I would say film. In film you have the visuals, the movement, the people, and the story line. You also have the wardrobe, and the sound--which is so important. I’ve been thinking a lot about sound lately and how that pertains to seeing.

How have your life experiences been reflected in your art?

Well that's a big one. I feel like I could talk about this all day. If I were to tell the story of my life, I would also be telling the story of my art. A large part of who I am consists of my childhood and growing up with my grandparents, my mother, my foster siblings, growing up in a multigenerational home. My grandparents had foster kids all of the time so I was constantly being rotated in and out of people’s lives; I would have these very intimate moments and never seeing them again. And I feel like that rubbed off in a way, in the way I act towards people, because with my foster siblings I only had one chance to make an impact on their lives. I also, at a very young age was aware of my own privilege, the privilege of having a stable home environment and family–something foster children rarely ever see. Being self-aware at such a young age helped me afterwards continue to reflect these emotions in my art.

When people see your art, how do you want them to feel? What is the message you’re trying to portray?

I want my art to be transportative and transformative. I want people to look at my work and be transported into the scene, to feel like they can exist in this world I’ve created. I want my art to depict this world as a parallel to the other worlds I have created and am working to create.

Do you think social media influences the way people consume art?

Absolutely. But I also think it goes both ways. Social media has saturated us in art in terms of visual art on Instagram and even music on Soundcloud. It’s interesting how anyone can put their work out in the open and get immediate feedback from larger audiences all around the world.

How does being a black woman influence your art? Are you conscious of your identity, and if so, how do you perceive identity in your work?

When we go back to the idea that art is you announcing who you are to the world, being a black woman, we face a lot of pushback. And even from studying successful people in the conceptual art world and successful black people in conceptual art, a lot of the time feminine voices in general and feminine concepts are taken less seriously. You shouldn't have to have some sort of  qualification to announce an idea to the world. But somehow the imagination of women–and especially the imagination of black women–is kind of demeaned or seen as impractical. Black women are supposed to shoulder all of these responsibilities for everybody else and we're supposed to be the most pragmatic, and I think that’s part of the reason why our voices in all aspects of the word, especially in art has been silenced. But black women have been trailblazers in the art world. It takes imagination to foresee freedom, and that idea of freedom is put into my work.

Going off of your last answer, of finding freedom in your art, Have you found it, or are you still searching?

I think I find freedom in the process. As I've grown as an artist I’ve found freedom in telling myself that my ideas are valid. And now, as I'm getting older, I’m more comfortable in saying just that. I exist, and my art exists.


Photography by Aarushi Jain

Interview by Alexa Silverman

Ashby Bland is a sophomore at CC focusing in literary non-fiction and concentrating in visual arts. We met in the sixth floor of Diana to discuss mixed media, bedroom art, and favorite words.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Ashby Marie Bland. I am 20 years old. I was born in Orlando, FL. I moved around a couple times -- I lived in Orlando, Charleston SC, and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I have a little brother and two parents and a dog. My family is Bahamian, Guyanese, African American and Native American.  

Did you grow up in an artistic environment?

I wouldn’t say artistic, but I grew up in an environment where my parents were like ‘you can do whatever you want to do.’ My parents were really encouraging and free. They pushed me to do what I wanted; they would never tell me I couldn’t do something. I’ve always had a lot of interests.

When did you first decide that you were interested in visual arts?

Visual arts came my junior year of high of school. I never thought I could do art, was never really into traditionally learning how to draw. I took this class in high school called AP 2D studio art, that was when I discovered the collages I do. I saw a bunch of subject matter, photos and imagery, that I liked and started collaging them. Progressively I got more crazy -- I would paint on them, I would draw on them, I’d rip them … then my concentration became sewing. I would collage images and then sew on top of them, by hand, with thread. It would take hours. My fingers would be bleeding, but it would be how I wanted it. That’s how I got into the mixed media style. It allowed me to see that I was talented in other areas.

So is mixed media your personal favorite of what you create?

Yes, not necessarily with thread, but just the freedom to put whatever I want on a piece of paper. All my collages I’ve done recently, I’ve taken all those photos; the real reason I got into photography is to have original photos to collage. Having that mix of photography with painting, drawing, or sculpture making … It’s about me being able to make mistakes. All of my collages are never how I originally intended them to be. It’s a cathartic thing -- my art is purely indulgent. I’ll make art for a certain mood that I’m in. I let my hand freely combine things, that’s why there are rips and shit because I’ll mess up and think, ‘well, I don’t want this anymore and I can’t get rid of it so i’ll just rip this piece off.’ Then there will be a hole in the paper. It’s very reactionary.

I love photography and I think it’s great, but whenever I take a photo, I don’t think it’s good enough. I can do something more -- why not? Take a photo of a person: why not print it out and add something else to it? I always end up layering photos or ripping them or adding a color. That’s me being indulgent and not satisfied with anything– I’m always changing things. I like playing with my hands. I’ve always been into design, creative directing, knowing where to put things … I’m really not doing anything other than just putting things places. The act of putting things places is what art is. You decide. If I take a photo, I don't just want to leave it on my iPhone or computer, I want to print it out and have a physical piece of paper. I could punch a hole in it and I don't think it looks worse or better, just different. It allows me to put my energy in a certain place. There’s a versatility too — I can have the original photo and the one that I edited a bit, and I feel happy with both.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I’m a big lover of words– my other favorite medium is writing. Last year in Poetry, we studied this poet called Myung Mi Kim. She has this poem called “Accumulation of Land” that has short statements set up in columns and rows. It’s a surrealist poetry thing; what inspired my surrealist poetry. I don’t always want to convey a meaning or theme, just a feeling. I become really obsessed with certain words because of the way they sound or look. For a while I was really obsessed with the word “degenerate.” Not because of the definition, but because I liked the way it looked and the cadence and flow within the word, I thought it sounded like a rollercoaster. I wanted to make art that embodied the feeling that the word gave me.

Do you have a current favorite word?

I started learning French last semester and I like ‘comme ça’ which is ‘like this.’ It’s a cool transition word and I like the way it sounds ... I think “cargo” is a really good word to describe baggage and things you carry because it sounds scientific and technological. I like the contrast between words that sound really scientific but describe certain emotions.

I like “gunwale”, that little boat that has shallow sides. If you look it up you’ll see the boat has chains hung over it … you’ve see in movies where they’re in a boat and they have these chains hung over that are tied to a buoy, and they pull the chains back into the boat and it makes a crashing sound? When I got to that line in [“The Writer” by Richard Wilbur] I was like fuck. I could hear the chains hung over the gunwale that she was pulling metaphorically. “Annex”, I think that’s a cool word because there’s two n’s in it. What else? I really like the word clientele. It’s so sharp … this is how I think. Certain words have certain feelings and sounds and color to me ...

Do you have synesthesia?

I don’t really like to label things. We’re in a generation that wants to label everything; some things just are. I was obsessed with this name Yusuke Urameshi from this rap song that I heard, it’s also the name of a character in this anime called Yu Yu Hakusho. That name is so sick. The way it’s said in the song has this cadence that’s badass; it almost sounds like it’s not a name, it’s one word … Everything is inspired by words.

Where do you work?

Famously, I do my work in my bed. I used to have an art account in high school I named “Bedwork” because I did all of my collages sitting in my bed. I would have all these pieces on my bed laying out. I didn’t need a lot of space. All of my collages are tiny, smaller than a sheet of paper. Although I was comfortable with this in highschool, now I wish I could expand my collages and make them bigger, show that I can work in a large studio. If I’m writing, I'm on a computer. If I’m doing photography, I’m out or in the dark room.

Tell me about the series on your website, “A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing.”

“A Pest to Ears but Attest to Nothing” was the last line of one of my poems. [The subject] is my really good friend. We went to a graveyard in Florida and I took a bunch of pictures of him. He inspired me to do film photography -- I have a lot of art of him because he was my muse back then. His lips are really nice. I liked the movement here, the way they’re turned. I picked these two pictures out, and I didn’t really want them on top of anything, so I sewed them together loosely. I’ll scan things a billion times until they come out perfect. I’m really into fuzzy incoherent photography with a lot of grain. It’s warmer. Because I don’t use a lot of colors, I need something that’s relatable. I love the texture.

Why do you find yourself working with black and white film?

Color is limiting. When you see color photography, you pay attention to how the colors interact and not the form. It’s a distraction. Also, when there’s color, it makes me feel anxious about collaging. I don’t want my work to be colorful because when there’s a lot of color you’re not paying attention to what’s actually there. [In this picture] he has tan skin, a white shirt -- that wouldn’t be too bad, but the background is green. I’d never be able to put a red thread through because then it would be fucking Christmas, you know? There’s too many associations with colors that make me feel like I’m trapped. The grayscale allows me to do whatever I want.

I see a lot of red in your work, is this color significant to you?

Yes. Red is a really powerful color; it makes me feel threatened in a way that contrasts with the softness of the photos that I take. A blue wouldn’t be strong enough, a green has too many associations (leaves, trees). There are not a lot of things I find that are naturally that bright red, so it contrasts with the basic nature of the black and white. Also, I have a lot of blood in my drawings and I’m drawing that red.

Tell me about your children’s book.

The first chapter … the entire concept, the title, I wrote when I was four. Obviously I spelled everything wrong and had horrible grammar, but the story was there. “The Girl Who Tried to Catch the Moon.” Every couple years I would find it … I moved three three times so when I would clean out my room I’d find my original draft sitting there and I would go on my computer and rewrite it. When I was eight I wrote it again — still with bad grammar, but I did it. When I got to 13, I typed it out. My parents always knew I had it and before I got to college my dad [said] ‘we need to publish this’ and I was like ‘okay, sure.’ I got it published in September of last year. I guess I don’t really see it as that big of a deal because it’s just something that loomed over me my whole life. I always had this written and didn’t think it was that important. Also, I’m not a children's writer, so I think it’s funny. Knowing that I was thinking about this when I was four is endearing and cool, but … my writing now isn’t anything like this.

How does it feel to be a published author?

It feels like nothing, really. [laughs] It doesn’t really do anything for me; I just like that I put something somewhere … I was never able to growing up because of Tennis. When you play Tennis at a high level, you’re not allowed to make mistakes. The tiniest mistake -- centimeters -- will change your life. Knowing that made me feel threatened. Art was an outlet. Who gives a fuck about three centimeters? I’m just gonna rip the whole thing and throw this paint on it and throw it in the trash and spray paint it. It’s freedom.