The CIE hosts first ever art purchase awards: Student artwork embodies identity and overcoming challenge

The Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) unveiled a gallery containing a selection of pieces from over a dozen student artists related to the theme of identity, anti-racism, and social justice April 14.

Artists’ mediums included paintings, collages, photographs, drawings, and sculptures, with 15 works being purchased by the CIE for the gallery.

Eric Nguyen, director of the CIE, said it was important to him that students saw themselves represented all across the University. With recent renovations leaving many walls in the CIE bare, he said he “knew immediately [he] wanted to hang student art.”

Among 13 different student artists, senior studio art major Michelle Haley was the only one to have more than one piece shown in the gallery. She had three creations included in the show, being “Harvey Milk,” “Marsha P. Johnson,” and a sculpture, “Chained.”

Haley said she was inspired to create the two paintings “Harvey Milk” and “Marsha P. Johnson,” because of the importance she felt they held in protecting and advancing LGBT+ culture. 

“Harvey Milk and Marsha P. Johnson are just probably my favorite, most iconic civil rights activists for LGBTQ individuals,” she said.

Haley added the showcase was a good way to get her work out there since she would soon graduate, and said she appreciated it might help other students feel more comfortable at Framingham State in the future.

“I thought it was a really good opportunity to have something here for when I graduate, and also it’s nice that my artwork can make others feel more included, or more represented, like the LGBTQIA,” she said. 

Haley said her favorite submission was “Chained,” her ceramic piece, and enjoyed being able to see other students’ contributions.

Another ceramic piece was submitted by senior fashion and merchandising major Hailey Davis, whose submission titled “Inner Beauty” involved working with failures. 

“I was kind of frustrated with figuring out what topic I wanted to discover and elaborate on for my ceramic pieces, and I just started working with the clay and I kept making these tall pieces but they would keep collapsing over and over and over again,” she said.

Davis said her submission began in her ceramics class and involved exaggerating the imperfections on the outside while “creating a beautiful inside.

“Things aren’t always what they appear on the outside, versus what you see is really what matters. So, that’s how I kind of came up with this idea of inner beauty, through development of other organic materials and things I see around me,” she said.

Davis said she was encouraged by her ceramics professor to submit her work to collections like the CIE’s art purchase, and that the whole experience has been very beneficial for her.

“They’re meant to be seen. They’re not meant to be stuck in a closet somewhere,” she added, referring to her artwork and the fact it is now a permanent fixture of the CIE. 

“This experience, I think, has been super beneficial. And I’m really glad that students get to see these in the future, and get to read what I said, and hopefully they get inspired through it,” she said.

Senior international business major Kwazay Casey created his painting “Student Athlete” to represent a series of challenges and accomplishments in his life, he said.

Casey said Nguyen reached out to him after the project deadline, and after speaking to him about opportunity and vision the gallery would help create, stayed up for 24 hours straight to complete the piece.

“I had to finish it in two days, so I submitted it to him at three o’clock, when it was still wet,” he said.

Casey said he asked his brother about what to create when he was brainstorming the piece, and was told he should use the opportunity to tell some of his story.

“He just kind of told me like, you know, ‘You’re graduating. You’re ending. You have a crazy story,’ I’m a first generation graduate student – I’m an immigrant. I’ve been through some tough things,” he said.

Casey added he spent most of his childhood in a country experiencing war, and that it inspired him to “push people to see [his] artwork, to understand the storyline.” He expanded on that storyline, and emphasized the resilience it takes to be a student, an athlete, and an immigrant. 

He said some may see it as a single title, but the piece is more than that. “‘You’re just a country, you’re just a flag, you’re just a race, you’re just a region.’ But we’re more than that,” he said, encouraging people to see the storyline.

Casey shared how his experience as an athlete and a fifth-year student inspired his message, and the importance of breaking away from negative labels.

“As a football player, … being a fifth year – so you know not being a traditional four year – so just kind of letting people know that if you just don’t stick to the stigma and you just keep pushing forward, you can create great things,” he said.

Casey said he had participated in a few art shows prior to the CIE’s purchase gallery, and added how art has always given him a form of escape and an outlet for his ideas. 

He said he has been drawing “as long as [he] could hold a pencil,” and that his grandmother would often give him books and supplies when he was a kid. “So I can create my own reality and just look at it – that’s why I started to paint.”

Junior history major Abigayle Versackas contributed a collage to the gallery, her piece titled “The Assault on Black Women’s Bodies.”

Versackas created the collage in December 2021 as the final project of her African American History class, and submitted the piece to the showcase in part due to “perfect timing.”

She said she enjoyed making art that tells a story, and generally works in collages and paintings, and especially likes to share her or other’s experiences that carry “deep, significant meaning.

“Some of my pieces on the surface, just looking at them look very superficial, but I think when we talk about them or when I explain them or when people really look at it, it has a deeper meaning which I really like – so lots of symbolism,” she said.

Versackas said she had never participated in a showcase before, although art has always been a passion of hers. She added she really enjoyed the concept of the CIE’s purchase showcase, that it was impressive to see her art hung up, and how the message was important to her.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “It’s so crazy to see my own artwork up on the wall, and see the artwork of all these other students, and I think it’s amazing they’re doing this. I think it’s great for students to see their own art and for other people to come in here and see themselves in the art.

“I think this is a great opportunity for people, and I hope more people participate in the future,” she added. “Please participate, please support student art, please come and look!”