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Resilience Showcased in Student Art Exhibition Reflecting Back on the Pandemic

A group of UNC students reviewed their COVID-19 experience and showcased it through art creating pieces for University Libraries' Reflecting Back, Looking Forward student exhibition. 

It's been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to stay at home putting a pause on normal day-to-day activities. For some University of Northern Colorado students, that meant switching from going to school in person to attending class online. It was a big adjustment for many, and though at the time it may have seemed daunting, many students not only persevered but thrived.
Now that classes are back to in person and many businesses have opened their doors again, a group of UNC students reviewed their experience and showcased it through art pieces for University Libraries' Reflecting Back, Looking Forward student exhibition. Here are three students' perspectives:

Kendra Hirsch

Kendra Hirsch

Senior, Art major with an emphasis in Drawing and a minor in Creative Writing

What inspired you to create your art piece? What does it represent? It’s representative of COVID-19 and how I felt during it, specifically being stuck at home with family. I know a lot of people felt claustrophobic and I wanted to try and incorporate that by having overlapping lines. It's almost to the point where you can’t even tell what you’re really looking at anymore and you have to search to find the faces. I am hoping that people are able to connect to that same claustrophobia that I felt.

What does being an artist mean to you? Why are art and artistic expression important to you? Art, for me, is a way to express myself. I think it’s a way to be able to connect to the community in more than just words or speaking with one another. If you look at an image, then people can take how they feel about it and express what they interpreted out of it. It might not necessarily have been what you intended, but I think that’s the beauty of it because everybody can get their own experience out of each other’s work.

How does your piece embody what you are looking forward to in the future? Looking forward, it would be great if we could stop wearing masks and feeling that claustrophobia. I’m hoping that in the future that I can personally look back on this and see how much I have grown as a person. I learned a lot about myself, about my family members and just about various other topics that I found interesting while I was stuck at home.

What do you want to do after you graduate? I’m going to get my teaching licensure so that I can teach the younger generation to love art just as much as I do. I hope that I can inspire people.

Devon Olds

Devon Olds

Senior, Mathematics major with a minor in Art and a minor in Music

What inspired you to create your art piece? What does it represent? My piece, is called ‘ACK.’ I was inspired by general anxiety during online school and then coming back to class in person. Everything is just really awkward and hard to navigate and sometimes it feels like everything goes wrong all at once and it’s just ‘ACK.’

What inspired you to submit to this exhibit? I saw the open call for submissions and I felt like I had this piece that was directly related to the theme. That’s what I’ve been making art about recently because that’s what’s on the forefront of my mind, so I decided I would submit it because it was timely and relevant.

How long have you been creating art? I’ve always been interested in art. For a while, it wasn’t my primary focus, but then at the end of high school, I started really getting into making art and thinking about it more. Now, I’ve incorporated it into a part of my life, kind of like a hobby, but also kind of like a focus of my creative energies.

What do art and artistic expression mean to you? Why is art important to you? It’s an expressive outlet. It’s a way for me to showcase my emotions and a part of my brain that I don’t necessarily talk about with everyone. I might talk about some things with my closest friends, but this is a way I can showcase that part of myself to other people without having to directly communicate. It’s also cathartic and nice to be able to create something or make something of your own, from your own brain.

How does your piece embody what you are looking forward to in the future? I’m looking forward to a point where everyone has adapted to the new situation because we’re always trying to get back to the new normal, but I don’t know if it will ever seem normal to us. I’m hoping that we’ll all be able to adapt and get used to wearing masks, getting vaccinated and getting used to all these new routines that we have so that it will seem regular for us. Eventually, we’ll all be able to get back to a level of comfort.

Ann Adele Blassingame

Ann Adele Blassingame

Junior, Art and Design major with an emphasis in Printmaking

What inspired you to create your artwork? What does it represent? It's a reflection on an experience I had a few years back. I was in a very rough place and it was just not a good time overall. I was also very young and naive, and a lot of the things I thought I valued were things I shouldn’t have put my heart so deeply into. I realized that later on after leaving the situation I was in. I wanted to make a piece that visualized that experience and show the way that it really felt. The moths that I did were reminiscent of having butterflies in your stomach, as they say, but I didn’t want it to be butterflies because I didn’t want it to be seen as a beautiful instance. To a lot of people, the imagery of moths is kind of disturbing, so I wanted to use that as a symbol. Also, I wanted to show a creature that flies toward the light. I wanted that to express how I reflected on that situation and how I feel in my life now. The heartbeat, of course, my heart was beating a lot. With the hands holding the heart, I wanted to symbolize the shakiness of how I felt and how it feels like frames blurring together and just everything being a blur.

How long have you been creating art? I’ve been creating art since I was a child. It was always something really fun to me, but I didn’t really know that it could be a career until I got older. When I got to UNC, I was struggling to pick a major. I saw a bunch of my friends were in the art program and how much fun they were having. Being in that environment and meeting those people, I felt I was missing out. I realized I can actually go into something like that, too. I switched majors the first week of school and that’s where it really began.

Why is artistic expression important to you? When I was younger, I had a lot of problems talking to people about the things I was feeling and letting those expressions out. I realize how much better I’m doing now that I can express those things. I really kept a lot inside as a child and, for me, art was the one place I could create any reality. I think what makes it really important, especially now, is that reflection aspect of being able to process my traumas and really learn about myself. I want to make an impact, so I’m super excited about being in a contemporary art space and getting to make work that can create a change.

How do your pieces embody what you are looking forward to in the future? I want it to be a piece of growth for myself, because I make a lot of art reflecting on my traumas as a therapeutic way to deal with them and I think creating that piece really closed that chapter of my life and helped me to start writing the next one. It makes me proud that I was able to get to where I am today.

The exhibition will be on display through March 4 in the Mari Michener Gallery. Eleven total students submitted artwork for the exhibition.

- written by Alani Casiano, a junior English major at UNC

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