I have a question for you, my good folk: what other time in history can you wake up, attend a slew of classes, socialize with friends, eat meals, view an art gallery and then slink back under the heavenly covers without ever stepping one probing foot outdoors? Ignoring the “WALL-E esque” implications of this lifestyle, the switch to a digital ecosystem has led to unexpected changes on every level of society in these “yada yada unprecedented times” and this “yada yada crazy moment in history” (not to diminish the current state of affairs, but boy oh boy does news chip away at the psyche).
For artists hoping to exhibit their work in a gallery, the grinding halt was similarly felt. Those fortunate enough to venture onto Hope College’s campus in the past had access to both the Kruizenga Art Museum as well as the DePree Gallery, where incredible work by both visiting artists and Hope students was highlighted. These facilities are also functioning differently, with the DePree space unfortunately not opening up in the near future.
However, that won’t stop the curators of the space from bringing new and upcoming artists to the public’s attention. The first milestone of the year sees the work of Luis Sahagun, an artist who has shown work in prestigious galleries in both the U.S. and Mexico. He is actively working as an artist-in-residence at Michigan State University in addition to offering part-time instruction.
Sahagun is upfront with what influences his art, and his experiences with race, identity and the professional art world actively inform and elevate his work. Born in 1982 in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, Sahagun moved with his family to the U.S. a few years later, where he lived undocumented until 1995. With each step forward, he started to shape himself. High school? Check. Bachelor’s degree? Double check. Masters of Fine Arts? Yes Mr. Sahagun, don’t mind if you do. Now he has come to Hope—well, sort of. Though initially scheduled to be an in-person exhibition, efforts by the artist himself and Hope’s curatorial team have arranged to have a “digital gallery” of his work available for free (the link is included at the end of the article). The format is not new but has typically served as a supplement for past showings, used as a tool to remind viewers of what they (hopefully) saw.
However, the real exploration of the work came in the artist talk and discussion that took place Friday, Sept. 18, for an immense audience of Zoom callers. In addition to the artist presenting his work and the inspirations therein, a panel of Hope students and alumni were invited to reflect on their experiences as artists of color. I contacted Sylvia Rodriguez, a Hope student who helped coordinate with Sahagun to bring the digital gallery into focus. She responded eagerly:
“Working on the digital exhibit with Kathryn Henry and coordinating the Artist Talk was terrifying, stressful and so worth it. Kathryn and I had about 10 days to put together this digital exhibit, and on opening day I let go of all my concerns because I knew Kathryn had done her best. Luis Sahagun is an amazing human being. His work is powerful, vulnerable and so inspiring. When I was feeling unsure of how the artist’s talk would go, or what to do with the exhibit, I recalled conversations with Luis. He is truly a considerate and inquisitive person. He was so enthusiastic to work with a student and hear from students, which is why we had panelists in our artist talk. I’ve only been at Hope for three short years, but I do not recall if we have ever done a panelist type of discussion for our artist talks before. I think it was new and totally necessary. Luis emphasized how important the words, stories and experiences of our students really are. Caring so deeply to amplify and elevate our students, I knew that Luis was the perfect artist for me to work for this semester. My experiences at Hope have been difficult, but I have found the most joy and healing from giving and sharing with students. I hope the digital exhibit and the artist talk with Luis and our panelists have given wonderful gifts of thought for our students to take away.”
I had the chance to meet with Sahagon during a “studio visit” conducted over Zoom. Senior students in the art department had a similar experience, where he looked at their work, talked with them about their progress and offered advice for their developing artistic futures. After this, I wholeheartedly agree that he is as genuine and passionate about what he does as his art suggests, and I will personally be following Sahagun much more closely.
So, my fine fellows, go see a show today. You are already in the gallery space. It’s a different space, but one nonetheless. In fact, there are a couple of advantages: no walking or stairs, significantly fewer pretentious hipsters and you don’t have to struggle for 25 minutes to find the bathroom between each fresco or sculpture. It’s not the same, it isn’t as good, but we have to try.
Please view the Hope art department’s coverage of the exhibit, as well as the actual gallery, at the link below.