“Reflections of Impermanence,” the Department of Art’s class of 2023 senior thesis exhibition, opened to warm reception last Thursday evening at the Center for the Arts (CFA).
Friends, family and peers descended upon the cramped basement gallery to celebrate a group of 17 graduating fine arts students as they debuted their final projects, the culmination of their time at UB.
A diverse group exhibition, the show naturally covered a lot of ground: the personal to the political, the abstract to the literal, the dark to the light-hearted. Whether they tackled complex sociopolitical issues or made a personal statement, each artist featured in the exhibition brought something singular to the gallery.
“All of our work… in some way, it encapsulates who we are,” Payton Blesy, one of the featured artists, said.
Blesy’s contributions to the show were two large-scale paintings entitled “Feasting” and “Tangled.” Designed to spur a “visceral reaction” in onlookers, the former features a pink pastel layered cake covered in cockroaches (some two-dimensional and some fashioned out of paper mache), and the latter depicts a “rat king” — a group of rats tied together by their tails to create one horrifying, tangled mass.
Just around the corner from Blesy’s pieces are Aanika Nawar’s vibrant and colorful paintings, chock full of historical and pop cultural references. Nawar recreated two infamous images by photographer Jean-Paul Goude: one of model Carolina Beaumont, and one of Kim Kardashian in the same pose 30 years later.
Goude’s photo of Beaumont is known for its fetishization of a Black woman’s body. But Nawar flips the script: her painting of Beaumont is encased in a structured hoop skirt made of “Afrocentric” fabric scraps, representing the colonial gaze imposed on Black women’s bodies while also paying homage to the African culture they have been robbed of.
“I didn’t have it planned,” Nawar said of the hoop skirt. “But I realized I can’t be putting a Black woman on display the same way that Jean-Paul Goude did 30 years ago. So I was like, ‘I need to veil her. I need to dignify her. I need to find a way to make a commentary on the issue, because otherwise I’m perpetrating it.’”
In the next room, artist Naija Boles’ work offers a more metaphysical take on the concept of impermanence. Boles’ mixed-media piece “Primordia” comprises two swirling, psychedelic canvases surrounded by fairy lights. The piece evokes natural imagery to comment on the human body and its relationship to the passage of time.
“I was thinking about the patterns that make up everything. And I thought about how, over the course of your life, every atom in your body gets replaced, but you’re still you,” Boles said of the piece. “You might feel static like you’re stuck in one place, but you’re actually changing — even if you don’t feel it — on every single level.”
The final exhibition came with a great deal of pride for Boles, who found an opportunity for self-expression in creating his thesis.
“It was an opportunity for me to just do something that I felt like I had to do,” Boles explained. “I had something inside of me that I had to let out, not according to what anybody else wanted, but just me.”
As the graduating artists posed smiling in front of their works and gleefully interacted with each others’ pieces, the pride in the air was palpable. The exhibition may be centered on the concept of impermanence, but the warmth and joy shared among the artists is more than fleeting.
“We’re all about to go our separate ways, and this is going to be a moment that sits in our mind, but it’s also one day going to be super far away,” artist Twiggy Falise said. “We’re going to have grown so much farther past the artwork that we’re creating now — but that doesn't mean that the artwork we’ve created now isn't beautiful and good and amazing. It’s just a part of the process and a part of the journey."
Meret Kelsey is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meret Kelsey is an assistant arts editor at The Spectrum.