“Multiplicities” and “Expanded View” discuss themes of identity at Rowan Art Gallery

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On Nov. 17, Rowan Art Gallery held an opening reception for its newest group exhibition, “Multiplicities” featuring work from professional photographers Naomieh Jovin, Tommy Kha, Wendy Red Star and Leonard Suryajaya. In conjunction with this exhibit, the gallery welcomed its student photography accompaniment, “Expanded View.” 

Gallery curator Mary Salvate, in conjunction with Rowan photography professors Danna Singer and Chad States, co-curated “Multiplicities” in collaboration with the Rowan University Photography Program.

When selecting artists to feature in this exhibition, the curators looked for strictly photography-based artists that would continue the theme of identity present in the gallery’s previous collection “To Whom It May Concern,” by multidisciplinary artist Genevieve Gaignard. 

“The ideas that we were talking about were what subject, [what] things would resonate through photography and also here at the gallery. So that’s when we got into the themes around racial identities, around trying to refrain from these one-dimensional thinking about race, but in a humorous and playful way,” Salvante said.

Photographer Naomieh Jovin represents her identity as a first-generation Haitian-American through collage work. She uses a mix of old family photos and her own photography in order to compare the similarities between her mother’s photography and her own. This results in a visualization of intergenerational trauma and resilience inherited through family. 

Her collage piece “The Lovers,” displays two sets of arms on a red background. The rest of their bodies are missing, highlighting the subjects’ love solely through their hands connecting and wrapping around each other. 

Artist Tommy Kha combines daily life with the irregular in his whimsical photographs. He creates a questioning of his own representation, making viewers see his face as a mask, a cardboard cutout, or even covered in a skincare sheet mask, like in his photograph “May (A Costume Drama).” 

In this photo, Kha and his mother stare directly into the camera as his mother presses a remote to snap the photo. Their faces are both covered in sheet masks, with facial expressions drawn onto the masks, hiding their real countenance. 

Leonard Suryajaya uses his experiences of growing up Chinese in Indonesia, practicing Buddhism in a majority-Muslim country, attending a Christian school, and his identity as a queer artist to create his work. In his photograph, “Bikini Boy,” Suryajaya showcases three men in bikini-body graphic t-shirts. The men are presented amongst hanging patterned fabrics, almost in a staged position, like they are facing an audience with a person sitting, partially pictured, on a riser.

Getting hold of photographer Wendy Red Star’s work proved harder than expected.

“We had to borrow work from Newark Art Museum to include this show because she’s in such demand, she didn’t have any work available in her studio. So, she gave me a list of all the museums that her work is in collections of,” explained Salvante.

Using her identity as an Indigenous American woman, Red Star created her self-portrait series “Four Seasons,” placing herself as the focal point of four staged environments, each representing a season. By using props such as inflatable and cut-out animals, astroturf, and creased backdrops of the American West, Red Star brings stereotypes created about Native Americans, especially Native women, to the forefront.

In working with States and Singer, Salvante was already collaborating with Rowan’s photography department and wanted to find a way to not only showcase professional work in the gallery but student photography as well. Through this effort came “Expanded View.”

They then selected multidisciplinary artist Genevieve Gaignard, whose art, at the time, was on display in the gallery, to jury the show.

“The thinking was ‘Oh it might be interesting to continue the thread of her being here into this show, and so, she was the juror for the students’ show,” said Salvante. “So, that kind of branched the two artists, or bridged the artists to the current show, by having her jury the student’s show.”

When coming up with the pop-up’s title, Salvante explained that they wanted it to coincide with the main showcase.

“So the title of the professional show [is] ‘Multiplicities,’ and then you have the student show, an ‘Expanded View,’” said Salvante. “So it kind of was a great segue, a nice segue to connect the two.”

“Expanded View” features artists from Rowan University, Yale University, Parsons School of Design, and even as far away as Chicago. The pop-up had students excited to show their work to the public.

“It’s great to see my work next to the work of other students from around the country and to kind of see my work in a real gallery space is nice. It’s really a good experience,” said Rowan photography student Grace Fox. “I was also super excited to find out that other students from Rowan were going to be in this show, especially some of my friends. But yeah, overall, it was just excitement that I was getting somewhere with the work that I’ve been producing for about a year.”

“Multiplicities” featuring photographers Naomieh Jovin, Tommy Kha, Wendy Red Star, and Leonard Suryajaya, is on display until Dec. 21 at 301 High St.

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“Four Seasons” by Wendy Red Star, “The Lovers” by Naomieh Jovin, “May (A Costume Drama)” by Tommy Kha and “Bikini Boy” by Leonard Suryajaya

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