May 2020 senior spotlights

Student in cap, gown and mask, jumping in front of VCU sign

The students in the Class of 2020 have shown remarkable creativity and determination—even before a pandemic started sweeping the globe, shuttering the university and upending plans.

Their creative practices are inspired by questions of identity, current social and political issues, and the world around them. They have performed with symphonies and ballets, exhibited in The Anderson, and researched the role of the arts in the world today. They have landed internships and jobs in their fields, been admitted to graduate and residency programs, and received prestigious fellowships.

Read more about their achievements, and join us for a virtual celebration of the Class of 2020 on May 8.

Lead photo: Destiny Martinez

Headshot of Ell Treese

Painting + Printmaking senior Ell Treese has been accepted into two artist residencies this fall: one in the mountains of Portugal, and one in the mountains of Spain. After that, they plan to move to California. Ell’s work stems from their love of the Star Wars universe and their curiosity with the beyond.

“Multiverse Theory suggests that there are an infinite number of realities just like ours but with potentially different physical laws, and each universe is created with simply one decision. When taking parallel reality into consideration, I became more confident in the person I am in this universe. If there are an infinite number of universes, then I am supposed to be the way that I am in this one. The work I have realized this year is an accumulation of the thoughts I have towards myself in a multiverse/parallel reality, my questions about how identity plays out in a parallel universe, the duality of comfort and discomfort, leaving evidence as a visualization of process and decision, and how a parallel reality can be visualized if no one is certain it exists. I hope my work can start a conversation about these theories and leave the viewer questioning their own reality, perhaps identity, and their position inside the vastness of the multiverse.”

Matthew Driver is majoring in music with a concentration in piano performance. He says his biggest accomplishments were landing an internship with the Richmond Ballet’s Summer Intensive Program, where he’ll continue working after graduation, and being accepted to graduate school at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He says his mentors—Sonia Vlahcevic, Terry Austin, Magdalena Adamek and Daniel Myssyk—were crucial to his success.

“My private piano instructor, Sonia Vlahcevic, has taught me so many things about life and music. She always challenged me and made me always go one step further and critically think about everything I was doing. It pushed me to new levels of learning and how to improve as a person when going forward in life.”

Headshot of Samuel Lo

Photography + Film senior Samuel Lo creates work that dissects the complications and intricacies of identity, and embraces photography as a tool of documentation, subversion, and distortion. He is currently creating a body of work that explores visual representation and interpretation of mixed-race people in order to better communicate and raise awareness of the complexities and nuances of mixed-race experiences, including his own.

“My greatest accomplishment at VCUarts was receiving the Dean’s International Research Grant in 2019 and traveling to Hong Kong with my father to create comprehensive work about the importance of place to identity and our experiences with the city. From the photographic, audio, found objects, and documentary materials I created and collected during this trip, I created my series, The Things We Remember. It is one of the most intimate and captivating bodies of work I have ever made, and its content and themes have proven to be timelier now more than ever.”

Portrait of Lida Bourhill holding a conducting baton

“I very much felt like the people who were auditioning me were on my side and they wanted me to succeed. It wasn’t a super judgy, critical thing. And they even gave me feedback. … I felt comfortable and I felt like I could really learn here and it would be a positive learning environment.”

Lida Bourhill has come a long way since that first Department of Music audition. During the last four years, the music education major has performed Vivaldi’s Gloria with the Richmond Symphony and the Richmond Ballet; led a Richmond Symphony Chorus rehearsal; served as operations and artistic assistant of the “Sing with Us!” program at Wintergreen Music Festival; and conducted the Recovery Ally Choir of Richmond, which comprises people in addiction recovery and their allies, most of whom are not trained musicians. Read more about Lida’s story from VCU News.

Malia in a long-sleeved black t-shirt

In the Department of Sculpture + Extended Media, Malia Bates has been exploring their relationship with Korean-American culture through multimedia work. Interweaving their personal life experiences and academic research, they bring Korean mythologies and folklore into a contemporary context while connecting with their ancestry and creating a personal mythology. 

“Unable to look at my own birth family’s history as an adoptee, I’m interested in investigating notions involving genetics, how physical traits, mannerisms, illness, and thought processes are passed down. A sense of distance or disconnect is present throughout my work, emphasizing the feelings of dissonance that can be instilled and the barriers that can be put up between cultures. My mentors in VCUarts have helped me become a more conscious cultural creator; no one is creating work in a vacuum. They have helped me think about my practice as it will exist beyond college and opened my eyes to the alternative spaces art can exist.”

Next up? Malia will be working as a museum assistant at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, and looking ahead to graduate school.

Marley White wearing a piece of her jewelry

Marley White, a senior in the Department of Craft/Material Studies, creates wearable work that uses the aesthetic and formal language of jewelry to capture social unease. Her work is also performative; the way her metal pieces hang from wearers’ hands and ears actively inhibits their ability to fully express themselves.

“When worn, the jewelry provokes a sense of vulnerability, empathy, and disunity. The experience is simultaneously unfamiliar for both the viewer and the person wearing the work.”

Marley was recently awarded a 2020 Windgate Fellowship from the Center for Craft in Asheville, North Carolina. The awards, worth up to $15,000, are granted to just ten graduating seniors annually. Marley plans to pursue a six-month apprenticeship with three influential contemporary jewelers in Amsterdam and dive into the archives of the Stedelijk Museum.

Headshot of Colin Knight

Craft/Material Studies senior Colin Knight has designed award-winning furniture—but he originally thought he’d major in fashion design. “I love sewing and construction around the body, but essentially I’m doing the same thing when I make a chair. I’m fitting to the outside of the body instead of how it lays on the body. Furniture just allowed me to experiment the most and interact with the most amount of people.”

For the last two years, he’s been reimagining British mid-century modern design, a project inspired by quilts his grandmother made during World War II. He recently received a prestigious Windgate Fellowship and plans to spend time in England building a library of textiles, woods, and war materials; visiting craft and furniture fairs in Paris; conducting research; and completing the body of work.

Headshot of Daisy Matias

Inspired by Sculpture + Extended Media professor Guadalupe Maravilla’s Disease Thrower, Daisy Donaji Matias has been exploring the use of performance—specifically in the forms of indigenous and Eastern medicine practices—as a method of healing for emotional and physical trauma experienced by Latinx people living in the U.S.

“The project incorporates my own lived experiences as a second-generation immigrant in the form of testimonio, as well as interviews with my father, a formerly undocumented immigrant and multiple-myeloma survivor. Upon completion, this project will fuse art and anthropology; interview and personal narrative; theory and literary device.”

An Art History major and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies minor, Daisy interned at The Anderson and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. She’s planning to take a gap year before applying to doctoral programs in American studies, ethnic studies, and performance studies.