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Bakerites channel anxieties into art in new exhibit, “PANDEMIA”


Jasmine Liou/Thresher

By Emily Ma     9/22/20 11:22pm

Any other year, Baker College’s P-Quad would be bustling with people gathering to eat, study, and socialize. COVID-19 restrictions this semester have subdued some of that energy, but recently, students and faculty across Rice have been flocking there for an unexpected reason. For the next month, P-Quad will be home to PANDEMIA: an outdoor art exhibit featuring students’ perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Baker Magister Luis Duno-Gottberg came up with the idea for the exhibit after reaching out to students and finding that many were struggling to deal with the mental strain of isolation. 

“I started listening to how [students] were feeling, and how their state of mind and their emotional state was,” Duno-Gottberg said. “And as the summer progressed and the pandemic and the virus evolved, I realized that we were paying a lot of attention to all the physiological manifestations of this crisis, we were considering all the material, physical aspects of it, but I thought that not enough has been done regarding the emotional well being of people.” 

Hoping that art could provide an outlet for people to process these difficulties, Duno-Gottberg invited Bakerites to send him photos that symbolized their experiences in quarantine. He said he was overwhelmed by a flood of responses and ultimately chose 11 photographs from five students: Maggie Yuan, Sachi Kishinchandani, Spoorthi Kamepalli, Ethan Perryman, and Brandon Ba. 

Searching for hope in difficult times is a common thread tying together different pieces within PANDEMIA. Kamepalli’s photo of a peaceful path at sunset conveys a newfound appreciation for nature as a place of hope and reflection during the pandemic.

Kishinchandani also found spending time outdoors to be a source of comfort throughout the pandemic. Two of her submissions, “sunrise, 6:17 am” and “Go With The Flow,” show nature as a welcome respite after feeling trapped inside.

“After spending so much time inside, one of the only places of escape was nature, because obviously you're not coming into contact with that many people, but you're still going outside and enjoying what the world has to offer to you,” Kishinchandani said. 

Yuan found her own source of hope and comfort in the idea of impermanence. Her two photos, titled “Blooming” and “Elegy,” were inspired by the flowers that her mother picks every day. 

“It's a little bit sad because the flowers get brown after about a day and you have to toss them out after a few days and replace them,” Yuan said. “So I wanted to kind of take something that would sort of memorialize each of these flowers—it kind of looks like they're sitting on graves. And in my description for this piece, I tied that sense of these flowers not lasting forever, to also this pandemic and quarantine not lasting forever either. There's beauty to be found in temporary things.” 

With his two photos “Reflections on a Car Window,” and “The Mind Melter,” Perryman captures a different angle on the pandemic—the surreality of such a large scale halt to normal life. 

“I definitely had the feeling that while life for a lot of us had stopped during quarantine, sort of, and we were taking safety measures very seriously, there are a lot of people just in the outside world who either didn't have that luxury, or just maybe were deliberately not abiding by any of the rules,” Perryman said. “It was kind of a feeling of being outside the normal flow of life and the normal flow of time a little bit.”

Like Perryman, Duno-Gottberg wanted to depict the pandemic as a complete divergence from the reality we know. In order to give the exhibit a dreamlike atmosphere, he printed each picture inside plexiglass and hung them, spaced apart, on a cable. 

“I thought, how beautiful would it be to hang it in the open air, like if it's floating in the air,” Duno-Gottberg said. “ That would create, first, a safety measure of having open air, plenty of air to avoid infection, and space the work out, but also have it floating. It's got this kind of oneiric feel to it. It's like a dream, like this is how people are processing in their imagination this thing.” 

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer also served as a crucial spark for social justice. In one of his photos, “Reality Check,” Ba references both the pandemic and provides social commentary on the Black Lives Matter movement. 

“I just want to make sure that I focused on talking about how our life moving forward will be impacted by these, so I tried to do this by using one of our symbols of Baker college, our red hell car, and I just used that and used the shadow that I created with the light to make sure that we knew that any of our actions moving forward would be in the light of these past events,” Ba said. 

In difficult times, art can bring solace as an outlet for self-expression. Kamepalli views both creating and viewing art as a source of support, especially when people are physically isolated. 

“When you look at a piece of art, you're able to understand that artist, their feelings, it maybe evokes feelings in you that the artist wasn't intending, but it creates that dialogue and conversation,” Kamepalli said. “I think that's part of the reason why art is so powerful, especially during trying times like these where traditional communication with other people isn't always feasible, art kind of is a safe medium to be able to do that through.” 

Encouraged by PANDEMIA’s positive reception, Duno-Gottberg hopes that the Rice campus will continue to be a space for students to express their experience through art. 

“I think creating this opportunity for people to address urgent matters, things that are affecting us, address it through photography, through painting, through the arts, is a way of processing these experiences, to give form to them,” Duno-Gottberg said.

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