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To thine own 'Self' be true at BMoA's Visual Arts Festival

Simply coming out of a trying year like 2020 may feel like accomplishment enough, but leave it to artists to go a step further. The Bakersfield Museum of Art's Visual Arts Festival, which debuts online Friday, highlights some of the creativity that sprung over the last year.

When the museum team was developing a theme for the biennial festival, curator Rachel Magnus said they wanted to select something that reflected how collaborative the arts are in history and art making.

"With a lack of community happening in 2020, we're looking at art as a way to connect us even when we were not connected."

The theme of "Self/Society" was also inclusive and open to varied interpretation.

"I love one (theme) that can be interpreted in multiple ways," Magnus said. "It can simply be in technique or process, the application of paint but you can look at it really abstractly as well."

The theme also reflects the museum's effort to shift its focus in creating an opportunity to discuss how diversity is represented in the arts.

That sense of self manifested itself in the 79 works from 35 artists in an "incredibly varied way," Magnus said.

"Artists' interpretations vary wildly — how do I fit into the context of society, personally and philosophically."

In the spirit of that understanding is artist Jay Olivo who approached the theme conceptually with their work "Take Care."

Magnus said they "explored COVID-19 and the response to it, interpreting what does relief mean."

Olivo's piece, which was awarded third place honors, is a sculpture of stainless steel, universal white automotive enamel paint and 40 pieces of "emergency rescue tissue."

Of the piece, artist and educator Jedediah Caesar, who juried the festival, wrote, "One of the staples of a juried exhibition like this one is the constraints it imposes, and this work very effectively answers and also subverts those constraints. Like the works by (Felix) Gonzalez-Torres that Olivo references, the individual silver 'paintings' that the audience is invited to consume link gifting and generosity to memorializing and loss."

Magnus said she was grateful that the director of Cal State Bakersfield's Todd Madigan Gallery was able to serve as juror.

"He spent a lot of time with each of the pieces and the statements," Magnus said, noting his comments on the selected works will be included in the exhibition. "From a curatorial, traditional art understanding of the work, I was very pleased with his selections."

Those also include Prapat Sirnavarat's "Life in Nature in March 3," an immersive painting named best in show; Jennifer Williams-Cordova's mixed-media narrative piece "Maria in Tijuana," which received second place; and honorable mentions for "Octopus Garden by" Richard Mortensen and "Many Ways" by Morgan Vargas.

Magnus said the honorable mentions reflect the varied media reflected in the exhibition: Mortensen with a whimsical fused glass piece and Vargas working with cotton yarn and recycled sari silk ribbon for her fiber arts work.

The complete exhibition will be available to view on the BMoA's website starting Friday followed by an online art sale, with a 50/50 split between the artist and the museum. This fundraiser will also stand in place of the ARTMIX sale, but fans of the annual event shouldn't fret. Magnus said there are plans for an in-person ARTMIX-style gathering that will also highlight “The Bakersfield Sound: Roll Out the Red Carpet” exhibit with a live music element.

"We're starting to come up with ways to develop more content for each of these exhibits to ensure people are coming back for these shows," Magnus said.

"This museum moves forward in an activated manner. We're looking forward to seeing what that means."

Plans include the return of the in-person lecture series, Art After Dark events and ARTMIX later in the summer.

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