Emory Arts Underground (EAU) hosted its annual spring student art showcase, the “Festival of Insignificance,” Feb. 24 and 25 at the Visual Arts Building. But that name couldn’t be any more of a misnomer. Beyond conversations about art and meaning, this wasn’t an event meant to fade into the depths of Facebook newsfeeds — it was created to be seen.
When I walked into the gallery I was struck by the scale. It didn’t come from the size of the gallery, per se. The well-furnished space, housed in the western wing of the building, was just large enough to feel like there was a space to explore without losing that sense of intimacy which makes these student-run shows so addicting. It was split into about four sections: three enclosures filled with selections of visual and literary art, and one a small cove with a projector, playing a selection of films, some from the recent Campus Movie Fest. Strip lights adorned the walls, and a small arrangement of them (shaped like a glowing throne) on an empty wall served as a photo opportunity for many guests.
But no, the scale had to do with a different metric: the number of pieces on the wall. The gallery, in sheer terms of volume, felt full. No clear struggling to barely fill the space, no single piece dominating an entire fourth of the room. It was an exciting surprise.
And the gallery was dense with talent. Some stand-out pieces: an acrylic-on-wood piece painted by alumna Oluwatoyin Thompson (16C), “Black Woman,” stood out from the entrance of the gallery, its dark subject surrounded a beautiful palette of vibrant, elegantly light-colored flowers, evocative of an easy, natural grace.
Georgia Institute of Technology junior Spencer McCray’s two towering 96”x48” monoliths — “2 Smithereens,” depicting the outline of a nuclear blast over a red background, and “But So It Goes…,” a red claw shooting out of a black sea — seemed to be as much of a blast to make as they are to look at, confident in their sparse but effective political imagery.
All of local Atlanta artist Jaeyoun Shin’s pieces were delightful collages of color and shape with a sharp intent — ”Martian Exploration 1” and “Martian Exploration 2” break into the surreal to find a joy and wonder in new frontiers.
Joi Massat’s (19C) digital graphic prints, “What’s Happenin’, Cat-Man?” and “Watcha Kno’-Good?,” featuring those words in exaggerated typeface and speech bubbles, are absolutely mind-bending if stared at for too long — or just long enough.
But this list isn’t exhaustive — it fails to mention the live performances across the street during the opening night, hosted at the Campus Life Pavilion. The line-up included spectacles by student performance groups like Break Emory, a breakdance group that stunned the crowd with its fluid, high-speed antics. EAU did well to reach out to the community, recruiting local artist Erika Renee Land, a self-styled “21st-century war poet” and motivational speaker who performed “As the World Turns” and the first poem she ever wrote, “War Songs.”
But the night was also made by the more intimate performances — for example, a whirlwind beatboxing set by Davin Lama (18C), who dropped some of the dirtiest beats I’ve heard in years. And at the end of the night, it was none other than Bockarie “BOREGARD.” Amara (17B) who closed things off with a quick two-song set.
But at the end of the night, I thought back to my shock at the number of pieces in the room, and remembered why I was surprised.
Most Emory students, this deep into the spring semester, probably don’t need a refresher on the state of the arts at Emory. Honestly, talking about it at all feels trite. Emory, despite having one of the strongest liberal arts programs in the nation, is largely a pre-professional institution. The students we attract just don’t have a lot of interest in art. And because of that, events like this showcase will always be necessarily niche.
But that statement isn’t anything more than a lazy assumption, contradicted by a truth on display this past weekend: The arts at Emory are thriving, even if its practitioners don’t always get the recognition they deserve. The closing line from EAU’s Facebook event: “Remember, the arts are NOT dead.” Corny? Yeah. But in an environment that can sometimes have this weird, ironic and distant pride on its separation from those things which define our culture and our humanity, how else do you grab someone’s attention? No, the arts at Emory aren’t dead — they’re flourishing.
Editor’s Note: Senior Film Critic Evan Amaral is an executive board member of Emory Arts Underground. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.
Correction, March 1, 2018: An earlier version of this article stated that the showcase was open from Feb. 25 and 26. It occurred from Feb. 24 to 25.