Senior studio art majors showcase their senior thesis projects: Students spotlight their trauma and sexuality through art

Corey McFeeley / THE GATEPOST

[Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault.]

Three studio art majors showcased their senior thesis projects at the first of two Senior Thesis Exhibitions April 29 in the Mazmanian Art Gallery.

These three students chose to focus on their trauma and sexuality, while also challenging themselves to create pieces out of their comfort zones.

The exhibition features a collection of quilts by Hannah Nesbitt – inspired by the Gee’s Bend Quiltmakers – a collection of paintings by Ema Momtchilova, and a series of pixelized paintings by Kierstyn Brady.

Nesbitt, senior studio art major, showcased seven of eight quilts that she has created. Spotlighting the trauma she experienced at the age of 19 after being raped, she created the quilts to show how she felt, coped, and recovered from that experience.

Attached to every quilt was a poem written by Nesbitt to go along with it.

She also talked about how writing poems took her back to the memory the quilt goes along with.

She said the inspiration for the poems came from Maya Angelou.

Nesbitt said, “Each writing is inspired by trauma that I experienced when I was 19 … the trauma, the memories, the feeling of drowning.” She added, “I asked the quilt what it needed. I knew it needed something more – a voice.”

Nesbitt said, “I gravitate towards people who can use their words in such an immaculate manner. … I appreciate people who know their truth and that they don’t compromise. I like the blunt, honest, gory truth of the experience.”

One of Nesbitt’s quilts was turned around to show the “wrong” side of the fabric on purpose.

Nesbitt, after reading the poem that goes along with the quilt, said, “This was about coming undone after I had been repeatedly raped. I couldn’t mentally take it anymore. I felt like a zombie.”

She said she turned that quilt around to show the “undoing” and “gut-wrenching” feelings she experienced from her trauma.

Nesbitt also chose to put one of her quilts on the floor.

She said, “I wanted people to interact with it and step on it. … I wanted people to think, ‘Oh my God! I’m violating something that’s beautiful.’ … I wanted people to feel conflicted.”

Nesbitt added her favorite part about making the quilts was giving them all names and “personalities.”

There were several pieces in Nesbitt’s collection that appeared to be damaged. She said in her statement that she used “unconventional materials” to create her quilts, with the use of house paint, ink, and wallpaper to provide them with a damaged appearance. She also used bleach, ink, and soap to destroy old quilts to create hers.

Nesbitt said in her statement, “I reconstruct the framework of the memories while preserving the raw narrative of my truth.”

Senior studio art major Momtchilova created six paintings incorporating animals within the female body.

Momtchilova said she wanted to challenge herself with this project. She said animals in the past had been difficult for her to paint. She also chose to title every painting after a certain animal she incorporated into it.

She said, “I chose animals that I find had kind of superpowers.

“With the jellyfish, it is really beautiful but at the same time it can sting you and it’s poisonous. The same thing with the scorpion.”

Momtchilova said the scorpion and jellyfish act as armor for the female body.

She also created four paintings with reptilian eyes representing nipples on female breasts.

Momtchilova’s inspiration for this artwork was to incorporate something that challenged her while also having some familiarity with her pieces. She said she has always enjoyed painting nude bodies – specifically female bodies – but she wanted to take it a step further by incorporating animal parts.

“When I chose different body parts, I wanted to show that there was sexuality and empowerment and a magic kind of presence,” she said.

She intentionally made the scorpion stinger and jellyfish textured and brightly colored so that it would take attention away from the body parts in the background.

In her statement, Momtchilova stated, “[The] narrative quickly gives way to aesthetic problems of form, color, and light, which circles back to the story – to a kind of magic realism, a realm of animorphic beings, hyrbid creatures and internalized images of the female form.”

Brady, senior studio art major, showcased four large, pixelized paintings for the senior exhibition.

The paintings depict Brady’s nude body and used pixels to censor certain parts of the paintings.

Brady said, “I decided to focus on myself for this series because that’s really the only thing you know best.”

She added, “By sharing your own, it kind of invites other people in with their own experiences instead of putting your own thoughts in someone else’s.”

Brady said in her statement that social media acts as a “buffer” between people and “close relationships.” She said humans have a “natural psychological characteristic” to want to “fit in.” Brady added people online can take this concept to an extreme in order to get more “likes and applause.”

She said, “Just our human characteristic is to be our best self and present ourselves as such, but it is such an extreme now.”

Brady’s statement said she censored parts of herself she is not comfortable with.

She added, “Although from far away these images may appear to be a glimpse into deeply personal moments, the viewer is forever held at a safe distance.”