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Seniors showcase their artistic journey in ‘Opia’

Bryan Mendoza / Thresher

By Juliana Lightsey     4/16/24 11:07pm

“Opia,” the title of this year’s visual and dramatic arts senior showcase, is defined by the artists as “the intense vulnerability of looking someone in the eye, and the beautiful discomfort of seeing yourself reflected in their gaze.” These concepts of introspection and interpersonal connection resonate powerfully across the diverse bodies of work produced by a class of 17 artists, who will open up their showcase to the Rice community on Thursday April 18.

“Opia” represents the culmination of a VADA degree at Rice. VADA majors embark on a yearlong senior seminar alongside an intensive independent curation of each student’s art with the intention of being displayed in the annual spring exhibition. 

“Especially over this [last] year, you bond with everyone … You’re in class together for six hours every week, for the entire year,” VADA major Natalie Pellette said. “I think art classes tend to be more intimate than your typical academic classes, because you’re creating work that is based on your personal experience.”

Pellette, a Hanszen College senior, plans to display two paintings and one larger installation piece in “Opia.” According to Pellette, it’s easy to distinguish between the works of the different artists in their small class, which she attributes to the deeply individual nature of the artistic experience. 

“I think our art each has its own personality,” Pellette said.

In addition to personality, this year’s senior class also displays a diversity of mediums. The works displayed in “Opia” range from photography and film to painting and sculpture. The art will be organized into two sections: a communal space where the different artists will each display some of their works together and a section for individual displays of each artist’s own work.

Sophia Rohlfsen, a VADA major concentrating in film and photography, plans to display a variety of both 35mm film and large format (4x5) photographs in the senior showcase. According to Rohlfsen, the resources and support she received within the art major at Rice were integral to her ability to express herself in less accessible mediums. With the help of faculty and specialized classes, Rohlfsen was able to use expensive equipment such as cameras, lenses, tripods and printers to create her large format photographs.

“I was able to produce work that I would probably not have had the resources to do for the rest of my life,” Rohflson, a Baker College senior, said. “It’s just insane … the support you will get if you’re really interested in something in one of these smaller majors.”

Beyond the increased access to the technology to express themselves with, seniors like Kexin Shen have also found an improved ability to engage with their cultural heritage and explore their identity through the VADA major. Shen, who grew up in China before coming to Rice, has been able to infuse her own experiences and feelings throughout her college experience with traditional Chinese painting techniques, in a body of work she calls her “Rice diary.”

“I’m using the traditional materials, like the rice paper, the brushes, the Chinese color set … but the themes are different,” Shen, a Brown College senior, said. “They’re about my personal life as a Rice student … [and] reflecting these raw emotions I’ve had during my life.”

The VADA program is unique in its ability to serve as an added dimensionality to the Rice experience for its diverse class of seniors. Most of the senior class is double majoring in another field — Shen is also a physics student, Rohlfsen studies electrical and computer engineering and Pellette’s second major is civil and environmental engineering. The variety in knowledge and background brought to the class makes for an interesting artistic experience, according to Angela Chen, one of the instructors of this semester’s senior seminar.

“As the majority of our art seniors are double-majors, they bring a unique perspective to their artmaking. Their creative practice is enriched by a diverse knowledge base that incorporates scientific observation, engineering know-how, and research in the humanities,” Chen wrote in an email to the Thresher.

“Opia” will open with a reception this Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. in Provisional Campus Facilities tent 2. Following the reception, the gallery will be open for community viewing from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and noon to 6 p.m. on weekends, until the commencement ceremony on May 4. 

“When you see the senior show, you’ll see this is very serious academic work,” Rohlfsen said. “It’s the thing I’m going to take away most from Rice.”

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