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Art imitates life for CSUB seniors exhibition at BMoA

We've all had a lot to process over the last year and, for some, that effort has been a creative one. That's certainly the case for the graduating seniors from Cal State Bakersfield's Department of Art and Art History, whose work is currently on display in an exhibition at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.

The university and museum have developed a close relationship over the years, most recently fostered by curator Rachel Magnus, who first started at BMoA as an intern while finishing her studies at CSUB.

CSUB has continued to provide interns and art students have exhibited video pieces at some of the museum's Art After Dark events, Magnus said, but they wanted to do something more to cement the bond.

Two years ago, she sat down with Jedediah Caesar, CSUB instructor and curator of the Todd Madigan Gallery, and their calendars to map out what they could bring to the museum.

That planning led to bringing the Graduating Seniors Exhibition to the museum. 

The exhibition is the culminating project of a yearlong professional practices course in which 28 students from the department worked with Caesar and fellow instructors Phil Chang, Sarah Vanderlip and Bill Kelley Jr.

"During that time the students have the opportunity to work closely with four different professors to develop their artwork and the language around it, and to learn to present themselves and their work," Caesar wrote in an email. "We also talk quite a bit about the life of an artist, what it means to devote your time and energy to pursuing your ideas, and the challenges and opportunities that brings."

This is the second of the exhibitions at the museum. The first held last year was photographed and shared virtually while the museum was closed to the public.

The students were very excited about the opportunity to exhibit their work in the Bakersfield Museum of Art, Caesar said.

"They know that it’s a great showcase for what they do given the BMoA’s audience and place in the Arts community, and an opportunity to work with the amazing staff at the museum," he wrote. "You really can’t have a better finale to a year of learning the ins and outs of being a professional artist."

Magnus selected the recipient of this year's George Award, created in honor of the late George Ketterl, a founding member of the CSUB art faculty and prominent artist. She selected Erica Zamora who exhibited a series of abstract sculptures in the show.

In her remarks, Magnus praised the piece's biomorphic glazed ceramics, which she said are simultaneously looming and graceful, and the textural dynamism of the surface where "the natural finish of the material is harmoniously balanced by the manipulated mark of the artist's hand."

Fellow artists Frida Herrera, Chelsea Geronimo and Nicole Lowrie were also recognized for their work in the show.

In discussing the overall exhibition, Magnus said it is clear much of the art reflects the time in which it was created.

Pieces like Breanna Gabriella Hendrix's "$100 of Unemployment Benefits," which consists of a metal shopping cart painted and filled with grocery items (totaling $100 worth of groceries from unemployment benefits), which viewers are allowed to remove. Hendrix comes back and replaces the items as part of its message.

In her artist's statement, she wrote, "The cart is meant to be emptied and refilled again. However, it will never actually get filled, the same way certain benefits such as EBT/SNAP, UI, WIC, etc. never quite fulfill the needs of the community."

"I think that that piece specifically is a good example of some of the themes that are discussed in the exhibit," Magnus said. "Made in the height of the pandemic, it shows the artist's relationship to our surroundings."

Part of this artistic journey is in exploring where we fit into this new world.

"Fundamentally one of the strengths of the arts is creating a visual vocabulary of what's going on," Magnus said. "We understand your own experience through the people who choose to make these visual representations."

Caesar said he hopes viewers are excited to experience these new voices in art, and that the artworks inspire further conversations about art and culture.

"I hope that these works resonate for the people who visit the show, and that it inspires them in their own lives and their own ways," he wrote. "The work of our department and the BMOA are very much aligned in that we want to continue to grow as a community that supports art and artists."

The senior exhibition, which runs through May 29, is on display from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at the museum, 1930 R St.

Magnus said that the upcoming Art After Dark on May 27 will give these young artists a platform to share their work. They will either provide recordings discussing their work or will be on hand to speak about their pieces to the socially distanced crowd. Attendees will also be able to view the current winter exhibitions and enjoy drinks, live music and an art project at the event. 

More details will be available later this month at bmoa.org/artafterdark.

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter at @realstefanidias.