We’re Artists, Too: Kitao Exhibit Gives Space for Student Art

At their most stressed, Swarthmore students seem to pride themselves on being some of the busiest students in the country. To the busy Swattie who heaves an overstuffed backpack and holees up in Cornell basement, trading mugs of caffeine for sleep, extracurricular reading is a sad form of procrastination and art projects, well, can you get credit for those?

Some of the students are getting credit for their work on display this past weekend at Kitao, but many are just happy to have the opportunity to display their work. The gallery, in partnership with the Intercultural Center, is hosting a student art show featuring works by seven students. Some are showing works they’ve done this semester for studio art courses, but others are simply hobbyists.

“These are just some figure drawings I’ve done in my studio drawing course,” said Eric Chang ’13, gesturing to a group of sketches across the room. The four pencil drawings are portraits of figures facing out from the page, or in profile.

“These are just some things I’ve done this semester,” Chang said with a shrug. “I chose them because I just liked them personally. There’s a speed at which I was able to draw them, that made them special to me. Then,” he demured, “that sketch in the upper-right corner is just one of my friend.”

Now a senior finishing his biology major, Chang has been a board member of Kitao since his sophomore year.

“I joined because if you’re not a studio art major, it’s difficult to find a resource to show your work.”

None of the students are here to show final projects or studio major theses, instead the works on display are just the products of students who’ve made time within Swarthmore’s academic constraints to produce visual art.

“I do a lot of art in my spare time,” said Sarah Kim ’13.  “At this moment I feel like I’m doing more art than school work,” she said with a laugh. “I just feel a real compulsion to make my art, which is nice because that’s something I’ve been trying to cultivate within myself for the past year or so.”

Kim’s contribution to the art show is a painting with some mixed media elements.  The image is accomplished such that there’s little way to understand how she produced it. This looks a bit like a watercolor visage whose facial features have been swirled and distorted. It’s a bit unsettling, but also very warm.

“Of the pieces I’ve done this semester, the piece I chose for the show most fit my conceptions of my work.  Also, I just liked it the most.”

This kind of forthrightness was in line with the unpretentious feel of the entire exhibit. Artists weren’t standing by their works looking to be asked about the inspirations behind their formalistic choices. Their name was tapped up on the wall by their works and that was enough for the artists, who mostly hung around the back of the one-room gallery and chatted to friends who’d showed up.

Cho submitted eight photographs to the exhibit, but the pictures work as a whole piece. Arranged in an array two photos high and four wide, lines throughout the images lead the eye around from one image to another. Many of the pictures are of stairs — including steps from the Philadelphia Art Museum and Swarthmore’s own McCabe Library — and Cho readily admits to a preoccupation with the motif.

“I’m an architectural photographer, so I’m very often interested in staircases.  Having them be a big part of this piece just made sense.”

Like many students who contributed to the exhibit, Cho makes his art work part of his everyday life.

“I take a camera with me everywhere and just take photographs of things that interest me.”

The Swatties who contributed to the art exhibit were all proud to show some of what they’ve been able to make over the course of the semester and took the opportunity to chat with other students artists and the students who’d come to see the show. But no one stayed at the gallery’s Thursday opening for too long. After all, the artists, too, had overstuffed backpacks to haul off to Cornell basement.

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