Special Comments from the Director of Graduate Studies

This year’s graduating MFA students, Holly Strickland, Kofi Bazzell-Smith, Song Shangye, and Travis Keller, all make work that reveals the power and importance of storytelling as a method for building empathy, and creating diverse yet inclusive and complex communities.

At the intersection of technology and healthcare, Holly Strickland’s Care•Stories seeks to provide a service for women navigating the labyrinthine landscape of reproductive health. Through the creation of a digital story index, Strickland demystifies taboo topics and constructs a grassroots archive that offers insight, support, and agency to women seeking to understand and navigate their own health and healthcare journey.

Kofi Bazzell-Smith fuses Black narratives and Japanese manga, challenging conventional boundaries of storytelling and exploring how cultural exchange and bridge-building can create and nurture a dialogue that transcends language and geography. About his exploration of pluralistic forms of cultural expression, Bazzell-Smith says, “There’s always been this interesting connection in our popular cultures between East Asia and Black people, specifically in America…I see us engaging with each other’s popular cultures, but I don’t really see us engaging with each other on a personal level. So, I thought maybe I can build those connections and build those bridges that I think should be there.”

Song Shangye’s “A Stick Figure with Two Heads,” explores the beauty and tension between abstraction and representation, revealing the delicate balance that exists between these two forces that guide the way we see the world. Through their work, Shangye explores the nuances of perception, challenges preconceived notions about how we see the world, and invites contemplation on the fluidity of meaning and interpretation. Their work tells an unexpected story about the relationship between mark-making, space, form with the goal of showing how all representational painting is, at the most local level, abstract.

Travis Keller’s installation, “Finding the Light,” offers a reflection on memory, community, and resilience. Through a multidisciplinary approach—culling images from videos, photographs, drawings, and his own memory—Keller illuminates the transformative journey of seeking light amidst darkness. His paintings serve as beacons of hope; they forge connections, preserve stories and ultimately foster a sense of belonging and continuity within his community.

As these four young artists open their studios, they invite us to question how we see the world and how storytelling can challenge our perceptions and inspire empathy, understanding and community.

Terri Weissman
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
School of Art + Design