Washington, D.C.—Two bronze-cast lions lay await in front of the entrance to the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. Protectors of the realms of imagination and creative skill—they size-up the foreign body approaching. I am a George Washington University alumnus all the same, but there is a difference between the School of Business degree I received in 2017 and the Fine Arts/Photojournalism/Art History/Interior Design/Theater/etc. degrees that will be awarded to the graduating classes this coming May.
For 150 years, the Corcoran name has been “dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius.” That was the mission of the oldest and largest private art museum in the District of Columbia, when banker William Wilson Corcoran endowed the Gallery in 1869, and it still rings true today as its graduates and undergraduates prepare for their thesis showcase.
“NEXT” is a 30 year-old tradition for the arts and design students. A public display of the art world’s future stars, it’s both an exhibition for employers and art enthusiasts to see fresh perspectives in contemporary art as well as a culmination of the skillsets burgeoning artists have acquired throughout their education. On Thursday, April 25, the collection opens, amplifying work of varying mediums across disciplines.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of previewing select compositions and installations from several undergraduate seniors. Artists Yacine Fall, Ashley Llanes, Seung Hyun Rhee, and Layla K. Saad explore themes of shared and personal identity in their thesis projects.
“I had never seen Muslim artwork on the walls of a gallery,” Saad admitted to me as we observed her seven-piece installation, United States of Being. Elements of wood-work, 3-D printing, quilting, and print making inform her project. The New Mexican-born artist’s Muslim heritage is intertwined with Native American culture as well as Egyptian-Lebanese lineages. When the Corcoran’s mission was written centuries ago, I doubt the encouragement of the “American genius” included the work of people who looked like Saad. “What about the Muslim kids who are interested in artwork? They don’t have this imagery to reference. They have Michelangelo. They have Picasso…all of these other artists who are interesting, but they don’t have something relevant to their identity.”
This re-contextualization of culture is evident in the respective work of all four artists. In addition to Saad’s installation, Yacine Fall debuts a performance piece, Un Lien, that uses burlap rope, clay, and the physical presence of eleven other bodies to connect histories and individual experiences together. Ashley Llanes’ La Quinceañera seeks to find the balance between her teenage self, who wanted to challenge stereotypes, and her current self, who values the conservation of culture, through a series of self portraits that evaluate the aesthetics of quinceañera tradition. And Seung Hyun Rhee’s Homesick uses manual and digital collage of K-pop stars to juxtapose his described "militant” music interest against his daily routine of American life as reflections of his desire to return home to South Korea.
Keep your eyes peeled to InTheRough pages as we dig deeper into these topics in individual articles. We will unveil more insight into the artists and their work while the “NEXT” exhibition is displayed until Monday, May 20. Admission for “NEXT” is free and open to the public. Don’t miss the opening Senior thesis show on Thursday from 6-9pm.