Each year the Williams College Museum of Art hosts the exhibition of the Studio Art Majors. This year’s 2021 show, Unstable Connections, features work by Nālamakūikapō Ahsing, Josiel Aponte, Peter Barry, Erinn Goldman, Karmen Liang, Crystal Ma, Ginya Marr, Kester Messan, Spring Diem-Xuan Pham, Alexa Walkovitz, and Emily Zheng.

The strength and competency of the work on display reflects four years of hard work, aesthetic refinement, and individual development on the part of the students. Often working in isolation, their accomplishments are made all the more remarkable by the effort they made to preserve their sense of community and creative spirit through the past year. This group of talented students worked hard, imagined wildly, and we celebrate their accomplishments.

The students wish to extend gratitude to the faculty and staff in the Art department and at the Williams College Museum of Art who troubleshot the many challenges of this particularly difficult time to make this possible. — Amy Podmore, Art Department Co-Chair & Chair of Studio Art, J. Kirk T. Varnedoe 1967 Professor of Art

Click the image below to experience the virtual exhibition.

In Process
Our Senior Studio majors shared a peek at their works-in-progress in their studios.

Jonathan Day Nālamakūikapō Ahsing

Today, I am dreaming of a waʻa
This is a great waʻa with 40 hulls and 400 sails
There are paddles and ropes and salt
And our lives are the wind to fill its sails.

Today, Iʻm dreaming of a waʻa
But before it was a waʻa It was a moku
And before that, it was a canoe
And before that, it was again, an island.

Today, Iʻm dreaming of a waʻa
A waʻa that was a tree
We carved from ourselves
From our love, from our wisdom
And this waʻa was pushed,
Into an ocean of connectivity
By our past-future selves

Today, Iʻm dreaming of a waʻa,
And upon it we placed our loʻi
Our songs, our gods, kapa and heiau
Our moʻolelo and ʻumeke
To hold our fish and forests
The sun and night sky
Our hair, teeth, blood, smiles, laughter
And the horizon.

Today, Iʻm dreaming of a waʻa
Today, Iʻm dreaming of us

ʻĀina. Ancestors. Material process. My work centers ancestral ecological knowledge and cultivates Kānaka Maoli life, land and practices. My process is my land; the material upon which I ask, “what knowledge is encoded through pattern? How do we activate Indigenous wisdom to uplift contemporary solutions? Who are we as ancestors of tommorow? My objects, my prints, my storytelling connect maker and material sources. Carved bamboo, chants to remember ourselves, pigment and protocol. We are the cultural progeny that must exact a language which embraces interdependence as a vision of the spectacular.

Josiel Aponte
With this collection of drawings and animations, I am recreating a simplified version of emotions I have felt throughout the past year. Those include hope, despair, disconnecting, connecting, and isolation. The stills feature small moments within a grand story consisting of 27 images in total. The colors are purposefully muted to pull out and portray the feeling displayed. For some of the moments, I am bringing in pop culture to connect with the audience, whereas other images are self generated. Additionally, the animations are used to compliment the 27-image story, but are not directly connected as I am emphasizing motion and capturing the viewer’s attention in a different way. With them, I aim to represent a type of alternative universe in which despite the muted color and environment, their moments display a chance for the characters to be free, unstuck, and more hopeful.

Josiel Aponte, untitled_01, 2021. Archival digital prints

Peter Barry
I aim to recreate and portray my sensory experiences of landscapes. My paintings are an exercise in both celebrating and overanalyzing how it feels to be surrounded by natural beauty. Working from memory and photographs, I isolate specific features of the natural world in order to abstractly emphasize their pattern, texture, movement, and light. These properties are the building blocks of my visual memory, allowing me to see and feel any place that has touched me. My work often utilizes separate units to represent the convergence of distinct memories and sensations, particularly from differing perspectives. The final result, I hope, is a fresh and deeply personal take on the typical landscape portrait.

Erinn Goldman
My practice is bodily. The body is a membrane mediating our inner emotions and the world’s outer perceptions. On the interior, a mind disconnected from physicality inhabits seemingly physical emotional spaces: shame in the pit of the stomach, longing lodged above the chest. Yet on the exterior, the world reduces the female body to be seen mainly as desirable and domestic. I play with the tensions between inside and outside: creating space and taking up space, ingesting food and forming tissue, and ultimately the breakdown of those divisions. On fabric surfaces, I print linocuts of contorted bodies that reveal suppressed feelings and accentuate skin folds and creases that we usually conceal. What does it mean to be truly seen? My work uses domestic sculptural materials like cloth, starch, stockings, and insulation. I ask the audience to examine the places on and inside our bodies that we hide, and to reconsider the way we carry our own flesh.

Karmen Liang
My installation works attempt to map the malleable contours of memory—a journey that is informed by the push and pull of immigration, assimilation, collective history and personal experience. Using delicate lines and organic materials as metaphors for transience, these pieces ask us to recognize our roles in inheriting, destroying, and reconstructing family and cultural values. In doing so, I hope that we can expand our definitions of home: home as a space where memory resides and home as an idea we build and rebuild over time.

Crystal Ma
My work is inspired by cyberpunk, a genre that examines drug culture and technology in dystopian futures featuring advanced technological achievements in a hyper-capitalist society. Cyberpunk interests me in the way it creates a world wherein visual symbols lose their connection to meaning by conveying huge cognitive loads of visual and cultural imagery. In my work I’m drawn to raw aesthetics and to the tactile experiences of working with new materials and new processes: sonifying the previously unheard and playing with textures and juxtapositions that create new threads which connect seemingly disparate ideas and objects.

Virginia (Ginya) Marr

I believe in the transformative power of words and the beauty of bouncing bellies.

Using text, connotation, and repetition, i employ bright colors and embodiment rituals to make the characteristic messiness of being human concrete. my work centers on themes of failure, shame, presence, fatness, and joy and asks us all to assess the ways in which narrative may be holding us back. in my work, i play with the daily and the mundane, as well as with likeness and contrast, to model alternative ways of being and give birth to new pathways of connection. i hope for my art to open more soft spaces for self-reflection, intuitive empathy, and wonder.

Viginia (Ginya) Marr, becoming body // you’ve never gone, 2021. Multi-channel video installation documenting a developing daily dance practice, run time: 3:47 (on loop) with audio “With Me All Along” by Bronze Radio Return.

Kester Messan

In my observations of time and its repetition, I’ve discovered a world at war—one in which tactics of control are deployed by institutions of abuse, such as The Church, The School, The Prison, and The Cell Tower. These institutions have imagined the sleep we get, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the words we speak, the rooms we enter, the pictures we take, the stories we tell, and what we look and feel like in them. The institution is ubiquitous. There remains no place, relationship, or object that is neutral.

In hopes of creating agency for myself, I investigate all places, all relationships, and all objects. I mine language from theater to inform my art making—studying the audition room, the cast list, the rehearsal, the script, the costume, the set, and the objectives. I look to the world that is created between actor, director, and audience as a way to discover truths about individual and community relationships with power, trust, control, and complicity.

Kester Messan, “No More Body,” 2021. 3:00 minute sound narrated by the voice of Apple’s Siri.

Spring Pham
Daily encounters with fragments, pieces of what I think is my body. Experiences of being bent, pulled, pushed—a portrait. Life spent with a stone lodged in the throat. A tethering, over-compensating of the senses. I make videos, they become my means of speaking. Notes of female rage, female ecstasy…To play the score of the caged bird, which can only be the silence emanating from the covert pressure to contort to societal expectations. The camera paints the body; the body plays the camera. Distortion through lens. A blurring granularly happening, the video as performance, as cacophony…As girl playing me. A girl is reading something like me, a girl is playing a song, like mine—the back-up track. I respond to the grimy, the gritty, the awkward and the awkwardly humorous.

Alexa Walkovitz
My work is inspired by raw emotion, culturally located clues, humor, and memory. It reflects the way I feel when I create. My process often starts by tracing crucial moments from my life story and expressing them via various media such as painting, sculpture, and digital media, including video games. It highlights and recognizes feelings that are difficult to put into words: a character once loved, the ability to remain unashamed in our silliness we may have lost, and the words you left unspoken for fear of being misunderstood. At the heart of all, my art is whimsy, well suited to extract and celebrate the joy that we are offered regardless of living in times of hardship. To me, creation is harvested from energy metabolized from specific memories that highlight unpredictably and the powerlessness that comes with unexpected change.

Alexa Walkovitz, As Far Back as I Remember, 2021. Video, run time: 1:16.

Emily Zheng

Each time I sit down to work, there is one phrase that repeats in my mind: For You.

For you, for you, for you.

My work is primarily an ode to my parents, two immigrants who have spent nearly thirty years working in the Chinese restaurant industry. It is inspired by the thousands of long days they have spent in kitchens and behind registers, and all the mundane items that have come to make up two lifetimes of labor, determination, and sacrifice. This is a piece for them and for the extraordinary obstacles they had to overcome—but in some ways, I hope it is for you, too.

Emily Zheng, 为你, 我会飞 (Wei Ni, Wo Hui Fei) For You, I Will Fly, 2021. Fortune Cookies, Starch Glue, and Lokta Paper