Students Engage the World around Them in 'Portrait as Community'
Is it possible to define a community of which you're not a part? Eight Virginia Commonwealth University students from the departments of Photography & Film and Art Education in the VCU School of the Arts endeavored this semester to find out.
As part of the course "Portrait as Community" the students created multimedia projects documenting communities in and around Richmond. Their efforts culminated in a special exhibit at the Anderson Gallery, which runs through Dec. 9.
"Much of the course was devoted to discussing, and attempting to understand, how complicated it is for anyone to define or document a community that is not their own," said Michael Lease, head of exhibitions and design, Anderson Gallery, who co-taught the class with Yuki Hibben, assistant head, Special Collections and Archives, James Branch Cabell Library. "In an effort to know what it is to be a part of clearly defined community, we treated the class as a community."
Students examined historical examples, research methodologies, ethical concerns and artistic strategies related to the representation of communities. They selected and worked with Richmond communities over the semester to create their projects. While students chose which communities they wanted to document, they received feedback from the class. The only criteria was that they choose a site in the Richmond area.
In an effort to think about what it is to be a part of a community and how communities are made, the class visited the VCU/Carver Partnership; Twin Oaks Intentional Community, an income-sharing community in Louisa; The Wingnut Anarchist Collective in Barton Heights; and The Country Club of Virginia.
The course was inspired by "Growing Up in Civil Rights Richmond: A Community Remembers," a project organized by the Anderson Gallery with South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa and American Studies scholar Laura Browder. Lease and Hibben worked closely on all aspects of the course.
Portrait as Community
The show is on view during regular gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.
Student projects on display are by
- Jaclyn Brown
- Casey Collier
- Kate Fowler
- Lauren Lyon
- Jessica Overcash
- Mark Strandquist
- Breonca Trofort
- Michael Weinheimer
"We co-taught in every aspect and both attended classes, field trips and critiques," Lease said. "Yuki's background … is in sculpture and she is capable of being a voice towards both the research-based and aesthetic concerns covered in the course. I'd like to think that my own projects involving communities and photography make me qualified to share some of my own experiences and knowledge of working with primary and secondary resources."
Much of the course was devoted to discussing, and attempting to understand, how complicated it is for anyone to define or document a community that is not their own. In an effort to know what it is to be a part of clearly defined community, they treated the class as a community. Moreover, the project emphasized the importance of collaboration over working alone in a studio.
"These projects could not have been made without the people on the other sides of these pictures," Lease said. "Each project is evidence of time and care being spent getting to know the community. This is so different from work made hermetically in a studio. It is a different type of skill, and one most of them did not possess before taking this class.
"Many artists spend their time making work alone in a studio or alone sitting at a computer. To generate the work for this course the students had to step outside of themselves, and often outside of their known way of working, and engage a world outside of themselves, their computers, their cameras."
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