Exploring identity at a grad student’s art exhibit

Media Credit: Naishi Jhaveri | Hatchet Photographer

The "My-Dentity" art exhibit will be open until Oct. 2 in Gallery 102 in the Smith Hall of Art.

If the idea of entering an art show and immediately confronting a framed sweatshirt with the word “Slut” on it makes you slightly uncomfortable, then Miriam Deaver, a second-year master’s student in GW’s art history program, has achieved her goal.

The first gallery show Deaver has curated, called “My-Dentity,” will be showing at the Smith Hall of Art until Oct. 2. Deaver said the show aims to explore the many ways we construct and express our identities.

Deaver said she wants to emphasize how identities are a “continually evolving part of us” and she believes creating artwork can provide unique insight into this evolution.

“Having to get outside of yourself in order to better understand yourself I think is the key to that, particularly in the arts,” she said. “And that’s why I think the theme and an art show go so beautifully together, complement each other.”

The exhibit features nine works of art, the majority of which come from master’s of fine arts students at GW. The works range from a sculpture of the bust of a transgender woman with bound breasts, which still gives off a faint whiff of charcoal from pit-fired ceramic material, to an oil painting of two sisters comparing the different shades of blackness in their skin tones.

Deaver said she took special care when choosing how to display the “Slut” sweatshirt, which is folded in a glass case alongside a photograph of the artist, Isabelle Savage, who is wearing the sweatshirt with two men flanking her on either side. Deaver explained that Savage would wear the sweatshirt to see how people would react to her attire and that she wanted to provoke similar reactions by placing the piece at the start of the exhibit.

MFA student Nakeya Brown’s work focuses on race as an aspect of identity, particularly the aspect of black hair. Her work, entitled “Mapping the Crown through a Braid,” features a triptych of abstract photos of black hair against pastel backdrops.

Deaver also had a hand in creating one of the works of art: local sculptor Caleb Lyman’s “Hades’ Harps,” an abstract harp sculpture made of foam, wood and string.

“I love how many different materials are involved with this because there are so many different things that contribute to our identity,” Deaver said.

Lyman said that the harp is intended to create a “visual juxtaposition between turbulence and disorder.”

With white walls and open space between each piece of art, the exhibit feels sparse and clean. A wall in the middle divides the exhibit with the bust on one side and the harp on the other, which Deaver said allows visitors to choose the side where they will start.

One of the works hanging on this wall is a set of two colorful self-portraits by senior Melisa Sturman. The paintings are the first and last of a series that Sturman created while she was recovering from a severe concussion. They serve to highlight how external factors like illness play a role in identity.

“I decided, for my own purposes, to do a self-portrait at least once a month so that I’d be able to check in with myself not only for artistic purposes, but also mental and emotional,” Sturman said.

Deaver, who got her bachelor’s degree in humanities from Brigham Young University in Utah, is now studying contemporary art history. She said the opportunity to work with GW MFA students who contributed to the show has been a “total thrill.”

“It’s nice to have a close collaboration,” she said. “In the real art world, historians and artists need to be able to work together.”

Alec Arthur White contributed reporting

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