As the school year nears its end, seniors are finalizing their art capstones – ranging from photo essays to dance performances – in preparation for NEXT, an annual showcase of more than 200 artistic theses in the Flagg Building’s atrium next month.
NEXT will open Thursday with a series of performances and interactive experiences that accompany some of the theses exhibits, which will remain on display through May 15. Half a dozen seniors said their theses communicate their love of the arts through their interests and passions — as shown through work including fine arts, dance, music and design.
“NEXT signifies the achievements of graduating students throughout their time at the Corcoran – the culmination of years’ worth of work, growth and diversity,” Lauren Onkey, the director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, said in a press release. “Behind each student’s work is a desire to contribute to the pressing issues of our larger community.”
Robin Fern, a dance and public health major, said her modern dance thesis explores the process of human emotions and how humans find the emotional sequence “surprisingly taboo.” Fern said the dancers in her piece called “wired: us” use their own experiences to enliven the performance and relay the emotional cycle of anticipation, response, recovery, habituation and rest through their movement.
Fern said her 10-minute performance, which was part of Corcoran’s Dance Concert Spring 2022 show last weekend, starts with a very sharp, intense segment with a red and orange light design and loud music, reflecting the human emotional cycle. But then as the piece moves into recovery, the choreography and music shift to a more “fluid” tone, she said.
“You can sometimes see moments of pain or moments of hope or moments of struggle, just within their body from either the way they stand or the way they lift their leg or their arm,” she said. “And that takes practice, that takes power and I appreciate them going all in because then it really tells the story to the audience.”
Shereen Ragheb, a photojournalism major, took inspiration from her own mixed cultural identity in her thesis “I Was Born a Foreigner.” The photo essay includes a blend of photographs taken of her family’s everyday life at home in Atlanta and archival photographs from her mother’s photo albums that she felt expressed her Filipino and Egyptian identity.
“I would just hope that when people view it, and even if you’re not from different cultures, I want people to see themselves in my family and be able to relate to the things that my family does because, at the end of the day, we’re a pretty normal family,” she said.
Ragheb adhered her mother’s photographs to the wall of the Flagg Building where her thesis will be displayed. Her own photographs are hanging in the buildings in a collection of mismatched frames, which she thrifted to minimize production costs and to resemble her mother’s photo wall at home.
For Laya Reddy, a political science major, the thesis project provided her an opportunity to research the experiences of Black women in music history and shed light on their contributions to the genre which she feels are “understudied and underappreciated.” She will present her thesis both as a musical performance of classical and blues pieces performed on the trumpet and as an essay piece detailing her research.
“It’s about learning how instrumental Black women have been to these genres,” she said. “I think their contributions have been so largely ignored and I just hope that more focus is put on them.”
Reddy said she chose to explore Black women in blues and classical music because she felt both genres were diametrically opposed in their inclusion of Black female artists. She said blues is more inclusive of underrepresented communities, but classical music entirely excludes their work.
“Classical music has been a very white, male, Eurocentric genre that has excluded Black women in large part,” she said. “So that made me really passionate about finding ways to make music more inclusive, and also exploring the genre more and seeing why it has been so exclusive.”
James Dingman, a fine arts major, constructed his thesis, “Hold the Hand” after his wife was diagnosed with a “serious illness” in the winter. The idea to create a piece exploring the intimacy of hand-holding came to him as he spent time in the sterile environment of the hospital.
Dingman’s work features hospital curtains hung on a wooden frame and a gurney enclosed by the curtains. A television set that broadcasts questions to the audience about their own lives and relationships sits at the gurney’s foot. On the day of the exhibition, his performer will sit on the gurney and invite the audience to hold their hands and engage in conversation.
“The main thing I would love people to walk away from with is an appreciation for past and present relationships,” he said. “The artwork is dealing with my wife’s illness, but I’m trying to reach out to people and help them recognize that life is short.”
Chris Pino, a music and political science double major, said he will perform a roughly hour-long voice recital called “Ruminations on Time” for his thesis that will explore the tension between how humankind measures time versus how humans experience time. He said he will perform his recital Saturday and will sing small sets of vocal works ranging from classical to jazz to show tunes. He said he uses these musical pieces as a medium for “delving deeper” into the idea of time as an enigma.
“My recital is an open invitation for those in attendance to open their mind and rethink the way that they see the world around them, especially the fundamental things that are taken for granted,” Pino said.
Devon Ott, a graphic design major, said her thesis breaks down the branding, messaging and design of Nike as a “trailblazer” among other athletic companies in their marketing approach. She said her thesis explores the deeper concepts and “emotional” approach to branding that sets Nike apart from other companies through analysis of print advertisements, store decorations and even the business’s brand lettering.
“It’s really interesting to dive into that and how they were able to build such an iconic brand and how they’re able to have an effect on their viewers and their audience emotionally,” she said. “And so it’s important as a designer to think about stuff like that, but also as an artist, and also as a consumer.”