New exhibit ‘assumes’ nothing about identity

Halloween provides revelers with an opportunity to put on masks and costumes, effectively assuming an identity other than their own for a day. After the holiday, the French maid outfits and the vampire capes get tossed to the back of the closet until next year. Then, what are the roles we take on in our daily lives and what roles are thrust upon us by society?

A new exhibit titled “Assumed Identities,” which opened on Oct. 30 in the College’s art gallery, addresses these questions. Following the gallery opening, the Art Students Association sponsored an open-mic night in the Holman Hall atrium.

In the exhibit’s program, gallery curator Sarah Cunningham describes how the themes that are present in each piece relate to the College’s 2007-08 programs on religion, culture and identity. “The ‘Assumed Identities’ exhibition examines assumptions and assumed roles,” she wrote. “It features work by artists who develop personae, alter egos or characters (actual or imagined), explore misconceptions regarding identity or take on roles and responsibilities or other professions as part of their art-making process.”

Three of the eight featured artists were in attendance at the opening to answer questions and speak about their inspiration and methods for creating their art.

Artist Xiang Yang was present in support of his work titled “Relationship (Red Desire).” The piece consisted of two embroidered portraits, one of Mao Zedong and the other of Kim Jung Il, connected by painstakingly placed, multi-colored threads.

“Relationship” makes a political statement, implying that Kim Jung Il is the “reincarnation” of Mao Zedong. The viewer witnesses the evolution from one Communist leader to the next through the threads, which were constructed to convey the feeling of motion.

“Because of their desire, two nations’ thousands of years of civilization were destroyed,” Yang said.

Yang, who was put in jail during protests at Tiananmen Square, makes a poignant observation that history can have a significant impact on the way a person’s identity is constructed.

Michael Oatman was another artist on hand to discuss his work titled “Achilles Standard.” Inspired by detective work, “Achilles” is a crime scene kit for leaving evidence rather than gathering it. Items in the kit included toenail clippings, fingerprints and a vial of blood – all harvested from Oatman himself. As an installation, this piece is a unique version of a self-portrait.

“I have an odd identity as an artist,” Oatman said. “I was trained as a painter and painter friends think I’ve betrayed them, but in terms of spatial arrangement and placement, I think like a painter.”

Roxana Pérez-Méndez, was there to discuss her two-part installation titled “Encantanda.” The first part of the piece is a tall blue tower with lights and a mobile at its peak – a fictional construction of El Cantanto, the tallest hotel in Puerto Rico. The second feature of the piece is a series of peepholes through which the viewer looks. Each peephole offers a different image of a hotel worker, portrayed by the artist herself. The concierge, a room service attendant and a maid are all engaged in acts that combine voyeurism and surveillance. The hotel, which seems magical and too good to be true from the outside, turns out to be just that on the inside.

Pérez-Méndez left graduating art majors with a bit of advice.

“Everything you do will take you somewhere else,” Pérez-Méndez said, “but don’t lose sight of your goals.”

The stage saw 10 musical acts at the open-mic night that followed the gallery opening, organized by senior graphic design major and president of the Art Students Association, Christina Dellavalle.

Opening the night with a mellow acoustic set of original songs and cover songs was sophomore marketing major Catherine Cosentino. Addressing the theme of exploring identity, Cosentino discussed what she hopes to express about herself through her music.

“They’re mostly love songs,” Cosentino said. “I really want to connect with the audience. The main thing about what I write is that it all comes from experience.”

Sophomore business major Nick Tutrone also sang at the event. He explained that his identity was inextricably tied to music.

“I can’t go a day without singing,” Tutrone said. “There’s always a song in my heart. I have a musical soul.”

It was intriguing to witness both professional artists and students expressing reactions to their own identities and the assumed identities of others. “Assumed Identities” reminds us that since Halloween has come and gone, we can strip away our masks and explore what truly lies beneath.

The College’s art gallery is open Tuesday through Thursday from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.