Spotlight: A space of their own

Nahed Turkestani rushes to the back of the ceramics studio and dumps more than 150 pounds of gray, wet clay onto a canvas-covered table. Spreading the clay into an seven-by-two foot panel, Turkestani leaves the clay to set and begins working on thin panels from her sketches, forming and sculpting palm trees, windows, doors and other architectural pieces to add to the large panel.

Her Samsung cell phone starts to ring for the third time that day from inside her blue corduroy purse. Hands covered in clay, she frantically searches for it and answers it. She knows it is one of her four children calling to complain about the others, or asking when she will be back home.

After the phone call, she brings her lunch and a mug of coffee to her studio space. She continues to add pieces on the panel until it is time for her to go back to her Burke, Va., home.

Turkestani is one of the Department of Art History and Fine Arts’ many graduate students. Turkestani, in her fourth year, displayed her graduate thesis in Lisner Auditorium’s Dimock Gallery this month – marking the first time students have run every aspect of a show at the GW gallery. This is also the first time the Dimock Gallery will show graduate thesis work, which continues all semester.

A Saudi Arabian native, Turkestani included her culture and heritage in her project, a collection of 34 pieces ranging from large panels to regular sculptures.

“I was interested in exploring my memories of Jeddah and its old architecture,” Turkestani said. “I wanted to show people here in the United States a different aspect of art and architecture that they are not exposed to.”

The week before the show was hectic for Turkestani because she was solely responsible for the show. Turkestani put together invitation cards, exhibition lists and provided a caterer, which cost thousands of dollars. She hung her work in the gallery herself and even painted pedestals. The nature of her work caused a problem. Heavy ceramic panels would have to hang on the walls, and she had to figure out how to put them up without tearing the walls down or having her work shatter on the Dimock floor.

But with the help of her husband and nine of her friends, Turkestani was able to arrange and organize the 34 pieces – some made up of a multitude of parts – in 10 hours, starting at 10 a.m. and finishing at 8 p.m. the day before the opening.

“After all that hard work it felt really great seeing everything in place,” she said. “I stood in awe the next day in front of my work. After being anxious and nervous about everything, it was all done.”

Painting graduate student Reem Bassous and design graduate student Jody Biggers have yet to organize their show, “Calm and Chaos,” which opens Wednesday and continues through April 15. Bassous made a spontaneous decision to move to the United States after graduating from the Lebanese American University. She said she had no plans to go to graduate school but ended up at GW.

For the past three years, Bassous has developed her technique and ability to reflect her ideas in her paintings. For the first year here, she concentrated on her technical development and moved on to explore ideas and themes her second and third years.

Her work focuses on the portrait, and she explores the expressive element in her work. Bassous said she will display three or four big paintings and some process pieces that are made up of many parts, one of them made up of 105 small portraits.

“I wasn’t working on a body of work for my thesis show; I just went with the natural flow of the process,” she said. “Whatever came out came out.”

Bassous said she has noticed a vast improvement in her work throughout her three years at GW. She said she has produced so much work that she finds it hard to like a painting after awhile.

“I mature in such short periods of time,” she said. “I won’t like something I worked on a month ago.”

Bassous said she does not know what she wants to do after graduation. She has been thinking of teaching and plans to continue painting, but not commercial.

“I will never compromise my artistic value,” she said.

Bassous said she is taking care of little details involved with putting together a show, such as invitations, posters and installation of the work.
“Most important over all these little details is that I am able to show that I have enough work,” she said.

Biggers, a design student, said it is important that artists learn to show their own work.

“It shows the development as an artist to sell and market the work and present yourself as an artist,” she said.

Biggers, who will graduate in December, has been working with digital imaging and design to break down complicated photographs into simple shapes, colors and designs. She puts together panoramic images, altering and playing with and putting together eight to 12 images on the computer.

“I like to predict what people see, how people read and interact with what they see,” she said.

After she graduates, Biggers, who teaches an introductory computer art class at GW, said she hopes to teach elsewhere while continuing with her work.

The hardest part was getting perfect prints, Biggers said, adding that for every piece she works on there are about 20 failed ones. She estimates that she has put in 40 to 80 hours in each print she has produced. From those, she has picked her best pieces for the show, ones that have their own unique qualities.

She said she plays around with materials to control the effect of her images. She has used different papers to give softer, sharper or more vibrant feels to her work. One of her images is a 270-degree panoramic view of the inside of the MCI Center that she put together and enhanced in Adobe Photoshop.

“The viewer won’t recognize the effort put into each picture,” Biggers said. “They’ll look at it, and they either like it or they don’t.”

Ceramics student Jenilyn Johnson-Roman started her thesis work in September and she had not broken anything until very recently. Working with very fragile clay figures, she has to be very careful that she does not break the delicate fingers and toes on her sculptures.
“I hope that’s not bad luck,” she said.

Johnson-Roman, who transferred to GW as an undergraduate her junior year, has always been exposed to ceramics. Her father owns a production pottery studio in her home state of Maine.

Johnson-Roman’s training and work concentrated on functional pottery. She began making her pieces by hand, and now she devotes most of her time to sculpting. She currently working on a collection of figures for her show.

Besides teaching part-time at the British School of Washington, Johnson-Roman finds about six to seven hours a day to work on her pieces. After reaching the studio, she said she has to collect herself and think before she starts working. She sketches new figures and sometimes sits and looks at the in-progress installation to make decisions about the composition of the work.

She builds for several hours after that, leaving the work to set every so often to increase its stability. During this time, she said she works on process-related work, such as firing and drying her clay to make it workable. It takes her a few days to complete a standing figure, she said and even longer for seated and reclining figures.

“The figures are responding to an external event with a variety of expressions and emotions,” she said. “They respond to the presence of the viewer and the knowledge that they are objects on display. Many of the figures establish eye contact with the viewer which gives emphasis to the concept and theme of the installations.”

Preparing for her May 1-19 thesis show has been hectic for Johnson-Roman. She said she has to custom build her pedestals and install a total of 28 pieces, which will take time. She also has to be really careful about the fragility of her work.

“I think it is a great step for the art department, and it is an excellent experience to organize and plan an entire show,” she said. “I hope that we get a good turnout of people in to see the show.”

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