April 30, 2021
By Stephanie Rizzo ’09
The Cornell Fine Arts Museum’s Senior Art Exhibition gives students an opportunity to design and execute a gallery show while providing a platform for personal expression.
Every spring, Rollins students eagerly anticipate Fox Day and its promise of a well-deserved break. But for three studio art majors, this year’s festivities coincided with the culminating event of their final year: the Senior Art Exhibition at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (CFAM). While the rest of campus gathered at the pool or took to Lake Virginia for a paddle, Renee Sang ’21, Andrea Czafit ’21, and Melissa Rodriguez ’21 had one more lesson to learn—the show must go on. The trio gathered together at CFAM to give a virtual presentation of Ethos, a carefully curated exhibition featuring their original works.
It was a fitting conclusion to the senior studio art capstone, which provides seniors with the opportunity to plan and execute a professional-level gallery show from start to finish over two semesters. A year of intensive work prepared the artists for anything, including their presentations falling on a campus-wide holiday. This year’s show is aptly titled Ethos, meaning a set of guiding principles or beliefs, and features works that tackle broad themes of representation, race, community, and activism.
Beginning in the spring semester of their junior year, students submit a portfolio review of their work up to that point. Then in the fall of their senior year, they begin their capstone projects with studio art professor Dana Hargrove. Participation in the senior exhibition is not a given. Students must present their works in progress to a jury composed of CFAM staff and studio art faculty. Once approved for the showcase, they finish their capstone projects in art professor Dawn Roe’s class in the spring, where they also work on the logistics of planning the gallery show.
“The students have worked persistently over the last year to develop what is really a professional-level practice involving countless hours in the studio developing and refining their work,” says Roe. “The pieces you see were developed through extensive research and lots and lots of trial and error.”
Just what does it take to pull off a show of this caliber? Here’s a deeper look at what went into each of the three projects along with a glimpse of what’s next for these virtuosos of expression.
Andrea Czafit ’21
Czafit’s work explores the relationship between government and capitalism and how they conspire to disenfranchise the working class. For inspiration, she looked no further than her hometown of Sanford, Florida, where the city’s class disparity has remained largely unchanged for more than a century.
Czafit pulled from newspaper archives to find stories that explained Sanford’s current class divide. She created overlays of words and images that highlight the roots of economic disadvantages and employed distinct markings to highlight racist language and class bias. The resulting project features both mixed-media composites and a takeaway newspaper piece designed to inspire visitors to contemplate the unique and potentially disparate economic histories of their own cities.
“You don’t really understand what ‘exhibition ready’ means until you start preparing for one. Getting the work objectively ‘done’ isn’t enough—you have to consider the extensions of the form within the gallery space and publishing. Even then, you could argue that the work could be finessed even more. Previously, I was used to doing work until I was satisfied, but after finishing my capstone and the studio art curriculum, I find myself taking extra steps in experimentation or planning to make sure that there isn’t a better form my work can take.”
Czafit is looking forward to integrating back into a post-COVID world and once more creating art that is engendered from physical interaction.
Melissa Rodriguez ’21
At first glance, Rodriguez’s colorful digital media manipulations seem more like classic advertisements than social commentary—and that’s exactly the point. The works explore questions of representation, media, and identity, including influences on Rodriguez’s own perception of what it means to be a Latina.
After conducting extensive research into Latinx representation in film, television, and advertising, Rodriguez used various visual misrepresentations of Latin culture—both in media and from her own experiences—to critique the representations themselves. The works feature Rodriguez and her friends in the titular role of the “spicy Latina,” and include elements like flowers and red lipstick that have been historically associated with concepts of Latinx exoticism and hypersexuality played out through the Western gaze.
“I enjoyed the whole process of creating, submitting, and presenting artwork from start to finish, and I will be carrying this with me into postgrad life by reminding myself that the artistic process requires patience and strength. My work asks a lot of questions, and that’s probably because it’s a way for me to investigate what is actually happening with the representation of Latinas. Why is a Latina cartoon described as beautiful and treacherous? Why are so many Latinas in media shown wearing the color red? Who is creating these stereotypes? If I identify with any of these stereotypes, am I enforcing them? My art asks these and other questions about representation because they influence a Latina’s self-perception as much as how others perceive us.”
Rodriguez is planning on applying to artist residencies and agency positions while continuing to build her body of work.
Renee Sang ’21
While reading up on Orange County charter amendments ahead of the 2020 election, Sang came across the issue of Split Oak Forest, a swath of conservation land that had been protected in perpetuity as part of a development easement years prior. Split Oak sits on acreage where the Central Florida Expressway Authority wanted to build an expansive highway, and so a charter amendment was proposed by activists to maintain the forest’s protected status.
Sang’s work combines photos and text to address the impact of development on communities. For her project, she employed documentary methods to embed with activists and combined quotes from conservationists with striking images highlighting Split Oak Forest’s natural beauty, biodiversity, and recreational value.
The measure to protect Split Oak Forest passed with over 80 percent support. Sang is also working on a documentary about the process for her double major in critical media and cultural studies.
“I really learned how to connect with others and visually represent social issues. From this experience, I learned that I don't necessarily have to be an expert on a subject to invest in and care deeply about it. Documentary and art allow me not only to be a critical thinker, but they give me a platform to present pressing issues by working with others who have a firsthand account of the subject. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to use my skills in this field to meet, converse, and develop relationships with people and engage in meaningful dialogue about issues important to them.”
Sang plans to attend graduate school in London to continue her work as a documentarian.
Want an even closer look at the 2021 Senior Art Exhibition? You can take a virtual tour of Ethos from anywhere in the world.