“Renaissance Forged” community exhibit at Dittmar Gallery looks toward a new world


April Li/The Daily Northwestern

Medill freshman Josh Chen views his photo, “Iris,” on display in the Dittmar Gallery’s “Renaissance Forged” exhibit.

April Li, Reporter

Visitors walking through the Dittmar Memorial Gallery’s latest exhibit are taken on a journey from introspection to communal optimism.

The “Renaissance Forged” exhibit, which features work from 17 undergraduate and graduate student artists, is on display at Norris University Center’s Dittmar Gallery from April 7 to 30. Curated by Medill sophomore Jimin Kim and Communication senior Delia Cunningham, “Renaissance Forged” is Dittmar’s first community exhibit since the pandemic’s onset. 

“We wanted to portray this metamorphosis from loneliness and solitude and somberness to jubilee, almost,” Kim said. “A lot of these artworks that we’re exhibiting were created during the pandemic. We have some very vulnerable pieces that we think are very powerful and worth highlighting.”

Kim said he and Cunningham chose pieces which conveyed an introspective view on the pandemic and quarantine as an introduction to the exhibit. 

However, he said he and Cunningham wanted to bring visitors on a journey as they proceeded through the exhibit. 

“The pandemic is coming to an end, hopefully, with the vaccine out,” Kim said. “We wanted to transition into a positive, lighter and more optimistic view.”

Medill freshman Josh Chen, whose photography is featured in the exhibit, said the “Renaissance Forged” theme and its message of “community struggle and forging new worlds” inspired him to submit his work.

Chen took a photo of his friend as part of a 2018 series exploring Asian American identity in the Midwest. The portrait, titled “Iris” after Chen’s friend, portrays the journey of its subject embracing the appearance of her eyes.

“I thought it was a very poignant picture and idea because her name is Iris and the photo itself was a close-up of her eyes,” Chen said. “I thought that struggle with coming to terms with how she looked as a Chinese American person growing up in Michigan fit the theme very well.”

“Renaissance Forged” was the first community art show Chen had heard of at Northwestern. 

He said the opportunity to display his work in a gallery was very exciting, especially in the context of the exhibit’s theme.

“When I found out my piece got selected, I was kind of ecstatic,” Chen said. “I feel like (the theme) also relates to what my philosophy is as a photographer, trying to visualize what Asian American experiences can look like.”

Debra Blade, Dittmar’s administrator and Norris’s assistant director for programs and recreation, said the gallery is focused on exhibiting the work of students and emerging artists, especially that of artists of color. 

Blade added that the gallery is largely student-run, as students assist with installation and curation. While Dittmar has had to rebuild and regroup after the pandemic, Blade is hopeful for the future of the community show and proud of this year’s exhibit. 

“We’re proud of what everybody submitted this year because it all came from their heart,” Blade said. “These are things that they’ve created with their hands, things that flow from their minds to their hands, and it’s really exciting.”

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