C/O McMaster Museum of Art

The Studio Arts class of 2020 presents their graduation arts show Unguarded 

The graduating classes of the Studio Arts Program at McMaster University have traditionally showcased their works in the annual SUMMA exhibition in April at the McMaster Museum of Art. However in March when McMaster cancelled programming due to COVID-19, the show had to be relocated to a virtual platform. Titled Unguarded, the exhibition went live on Sept. 10 and will remain permanently online on the McMaster Museum of Art website.

The virtual exhibition and associated print catalogue feature images and videos of the 16 graduates’ pieces. Plans to organize a virtual gallery came together a few months after the April exhibition was put on pause due to COVID-19. At the beginning of the summer, the studio arts graduates and Curator Stylo Starr connected online to discuss building a virtual gallery.

With a background in graphic design, Starr is a multimedia artist from Hamilton who predominantly makes collage art. Starr summarized Unguarded in five simple words: “being your true authentic creator.” 

Starr’s focus on not only gallery shows, but on community-based work made her interested in curating the virtual exhibition. For Starr, Unguarded means freedom of expression and the lack of censorship, barriers or restraints. This was reflected in her approach as a curator and visiting artist.

“It was really important to not censor anyone, . . . to allow space [and] give space and agency to each artist equally to express what’s on their heart, what’s on their mind, what’s on their psyche and what’s being lived out [through] their experience. I think too often, especially in an academic environment, it almost comes second nature to guard things on either side of the spectrum whether it be censoring someone’s expression or . . . being a gatekeeper to whatever subject matter or topic,” said Starr.

“It was really important to not censor anyone, . . . to allow space [and] give space and agency to each artist equally to express what’s on their heart, what’s on their mind, what’s on their psyche and what’s being lived out [through] their experience. I think too often, especially in an academic environment, it almost comes second nature to guard things on either side of the spectrum whether it be censoring someone’s expression or . . . being a gatekeeper to whatever subject matter or topic,” said Starr.

Starr placed great emphasis on providing space for the artists to express freely. She was eager to listen to the artists’ goals and incorporate their input.  

“It’s really exciting to finally see their work be shown, not necessarily in the way it was intended, but I’m really proud of how resilient all the artists were and [how they] have been able to roll with the obstacles that were clearly set,” said Starr.

Despite unforeseen circumstances, the studio arts class of 2020 has come together one last time to deliver the final products of their growth, character and experiences over the past four years. Starr hopes viewers will come away from the exhibit with an understanding of the power of art as a form of a language and an appreciation for the students’ fluency in the language of art. The Silhouette sat down with a few of the participating artists to discuss their time at McMaster and to gain insight into their pieces that are displayed in the virtual exhibition.

Kelsey Dykstra

Dykstra is inspired by the idea of home, diversity and feminism, which she was able to explore through the Studio Arts Program. She contrasts growing up secluded on a farm in Huron County to moving to Hamilton where she was exposed to many diverse communities for the first time. 

“[The program] definitely made me grow as a person in general . . . I never was really raised with [diversity or feminism] and it just really opened my eyes to a whole other world,” said Dykstra. 

One of the challenges Dykstra experienced while transitioning her pieces online was finding ways to document her textile piece which featured embroidery of her series Bored Naked People on cotton. Ultimately, it was captured through her artist video. 

In the future, she hopes to pursue art therapy. But in the meantime, she has launched a small business called Althea where she sells cards and posters. 

Sarah Urban

Urban didn’t always know she wanted to pursue art school. After finishing high school, she worked as a cake decorator and, four years later, was encouraged by her family to apply to university. Since entering the program, she has been able to step outside of her comfort zone and grow into an independent, mature artist. 

Urban described her class as one big family. 

Unguarded to me is about how vulnerable we are with each other. And even though our artwork is so different, we’re always so supportive of other people’s ideas and supportive of each other and really, really vulnerable with each other . . . which is why we chose [the name Unguarded].”

The theme of her pieces for Unguarded stems from her interest in the environment and climate change. As a child, she spent a lot of time outdoors camping and hiking. Her work “Reclamation Series” tells the story of society’s ignorance of global warming and alludes to Sodom and Gomorrah, Biblical cities that were ultimately destroyed for their ignorance and sins. 

Urban currently works as a full-time art instructor in Oakville with plans to attend graduate school or to go into gallery shows. Whichever path she decides to go on, she will be able to take with her the lessons she learned from the Studio Arts Program on listening, helping and caring for others. 

Celine Jeong

As a Korean-Canadian artist, Jeong’s practice is influenced by her Presbyterian and Korean upbringing as well as her death anxiety and interest in children’s storybooks. 

Her Korean background is observed in Tigers which depicts this popular animal in Korean folklore. She also ties in narratives from Christianity in works such as Mother Sheep by examining the relationship between religious authority figures and death.

[A]s someone [who] struggles with a lot of death anxiety and who was very impacted by these teachings about death, I guess I just want to relate to others and their own childhood experiences with death and  . . . articulating that moment where you’re grappling with your first awareness of death,” said Jeong. 

Reflecting back on her four years in the program, she was most impacted by the collaborative interactions with the other artists. The opportunities for feedback, critique and encouragement were critical pieces of her development. She is planning to open a business selling her art online and exploring webcomics and storytelling. 

Shveta Sharma

Influenced by her artistic household and a creative writing course she took in high school, Sharma integrates her love for music and performance with her fascination for alternate realities in her practice. She creates immersive installations designed to activate the human psyche. This was also the foundation for her honours thesis, which was about using multisensory stimuli to evoke psychological and physiological responses and the impact of psychedelia on the brain. 

In Insert Molly, which was captured through a video for the online exhibition, she plunges the viewers into infinite kaleidoscopic projections of light and body movements complemented by heavy bass, reverberation and rendered vocals. 

“I aim to create my own world to fully submerge the viewer in . . . The conceptual idea of multiple existences and the creations or recreation of realities is further emphasized through the interaction and production of the piece,” Sharma explained. 

The cancellation of the original April exhibition was emotionally difficult for her and the rest of her classmates, however, she is excited to finally share the worlds she has created. 

Before entering the program, Sharma didn’t know performance could be considered art. The program changed her life by helping her discover her passion and define her path. Through her continuing studies in computer art, she will develop skills to build a fully immersive installation in the future.

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