The Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, or RCAH, hosted a reception Friday evening to commemorate the opening of its new exhibit titled “Sam x Elijah: Making Space x Taking Space.”
The exhibit, a part of RCAH’s “Emerging Visions” program, features artworks from Nigerian-Sri Lankan artist Samantha Modder and African American artist Elijah Hamilton-Wray. The exhibit will be on display until Feb. 23 and is located at the RCAH LookOut Gallery above the Snyder-Phillips dining hall.
Modder and Hamilton-Wray’s artwork tackles themes relating to Black, African American and African identity and imagination within the diaspora.
Modder, who largely works in digital formats, explores these concepts with her wall-spanning black and white pieces that surround the viewer. Equally striking, Hamilton-Wray’s oil on canvas pieces stand out with their brightly colored backgrounds and his stripping of facial features which deconstructs the portraits to just a few identifiers.
Speaking before dozens of visitors, Modder discussed how her current project came into being during the COVID-19 pandemic and how the past four years have been a consistent exercise in self-exploration through art.
“It’s this world of a lot of self portraiture,” Modder said. “A lot of contemplating what it is to be around yourself and think ‘Could I do this better if everyone else in the world disappeared? If it was just me, if I had to start over, would I do any better?’ and so far the answer is ongoing.”
Additionally, Hamilton-Wray spoke on his own works, describing how he hopes audiences fill in the blanks where he has stripped his portraits of most of their features.
“There’s a sense of self,” Hamilton-Wray said. “But (I’m) trying to erase a lot of that and see what the viewer brings to those paintings and what they’ll assume about someone based on these minimal features.”
Modder also commented on the importance of creating spaces for Black artists to express themselves and tell their own stories. She added that for her large-scale pieces, she hopes to tap into audiences’ childlike wonder and imaginations.
“I think there’s something really powerful about the Black imaginary specifically,” Modder said. “And what it means to create these spaces for ourselves and tell these stories that can be powerful, comforting but sometimes confrontational.”