In mid-September, I attended an artist-led tour of Continuum, an exhibition of works by students and graduates of Florida Atlantic University's Master of Fine Arts program. The exhibit, which opened at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County in August and runs until November 10, includes a range of mediums, styles and points of view. Continuum's sheer variety is reason enough to attend. Beyond this, the work in Continuum reflects the life stories of 20 individuals, artists you come to know and understand as you progress through the exhibit.
Raheleh Tavakolnia, a MFA candidate, led my tour. In addition to being utterly charming, Tavakolnia is Iranian, a characteristic that permeates her art and the way she sees the world. When you first walk into the gallery space, a patchwork robe created by Tavakolnia greets you. Constructed from fabrics bearing images and script from her native country, the piece, entitled "What We Carry," is a work in progress. It speaks to Tavakolnia's commitment to exploring the forbidden and mystical power of the feminine and, especially, how femininity is influenced by Middle Eastern cultures and norms.
Tavakolnia's work cannot be separated from her personal history. This is the case for all the pieces in Continuum. "Surrounded," a mixed-media painting from MFA student Misoo Filan, is a striking construction. By juxtaposing familiar fairy tale imagery with a nude self-portrait, Filan conveys a vulnerable innocence. This, combined with a predominantly brown color palette accented by strikes of bold pigments, makes for a haunting image.
Linda Behar's personal history is also prevalent in her work, though in a more abstract manner than Filan's. Born in Venezuela, Behar studied to become a civil engineer before turning to art. As a result, a number of her pieces feature location as a motif. An untitled silkscreen print on paper illustrates an infatuation with urban planning as well as a desire to imbue logical constructions with a sense of spirituality.
Continuum is a smorgasbord of mediums. Traditional acrylic paintings are the minority, surpassed by pottery, photography, tile work and sugar sculptures. Yes, sugar sculptures. Giannina Coppiano Dwin, a graduate of FAU's MFA program, explores gender identity by creating intricate images with sugar. Her work in Continuum includes four photographs of sugar lingerie. From afar, and even up close, the sugar bras and panties look real. Bring nose to glass and you can see the sugar crystals sparkle in the lighting, at once shattering the illusion and illuminating Dwin's message of female identity and its conflation with fragility.
Alumni Joshua Hunter Davis' work forgoes the intricacies of sugar in exchange for the interplay of industrialization and nature. Humming Bird (mixed media on canvas) exemplifies this. A lovely depiction of a humming bird is obstructed by a decoupage of mechanical images. This hybrid speaks to a number of industrial motifs and concerns faced by civilization today. On a more personal level, it's reminiscent of Davis' own childhood, growing up with both a reverence for the outdoors as well as Sci-Fi movies like Blade Runner, Aliens and Terminator.
By the end of my Continuum tour, I felt like I'd done more than just visit a gallery. In the hour I spent at the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, I'd come to know 20 distinct artists and their views of the world. I saw their insecurities. I witnessed their struggles. I understood their histories. Above all, I stood in awe of their artistic talents and courage to put all of themselves on the canvas.
Continuum is on display until November 10. On October 27, there will be a final artist lecture. For more information visit palmbeachculture.com.