The University Art Gallery recently displayed the comprehensive works of two Sewanee seniors, Bailey Stevens C’21 and Kara Adams C’21, from April 9-15. Walking through the exhibition places the viewer in an interesting place. The gallery is clean, quiet, and strategically lit to place maximum focus on the works themselves, placing the observer in the position of the outside-looking-in, which is exactly where Stevens and Adams want them to be.
Adams’ pieces are the first to greet the eye upon entering the gallery. Adams uses her medium, photography, to document her personal experiences growing up with her family in the impoverished rural South in her collection titled Down Yonder. “The work began as a way to explore life in my community and allow insight into our way of life allowing both the beautiful positives and the harsh negatives to shine through.”
Adams effectively narrows the broad subject of contemporary rural life specifically to her family’s experience, giving her work a focused narrative that invokes a profound pathos within the viewer. Adams says, “As I began to explore this concept I felt as though I was exploiting my culture and community. I then decided I wanted to view this project through the lens of my own family, something I believe I understood.”
Adams’ shift in creative direction to look directly inward to her own home took her on a profound journey of self-discovery, adding an entire other dimension to the collection that effectively tethers her roots to her present. “As I began to go through family albums dating back to the great grandparents of my great grandparents I realized there was very little I truly understood about my family. Everything was a cacophonous mess that, quite frankly, left me reeling… My work is displayed alongside my family photographs dating back generations, not only as a way to contextualize my work but also as a continuation of my family’s photographic history.”
Bailey Stevens also uses her work to create a specific narrative that involves transformation and reconciling the past-self with the present. Her collection of paintings titled The Obscured Finish Line: Once More the Fool, provide a look into how Stevens perceives her time at Sewanee in terms of personal growth and self discovery.
“The end of things is not always obvious. I think about the person I was 3 years ago and I do not recognize her… Investigating past experiences is how I try to piece together a clearer understanding of myself,” says Stevens. “The paintings follow a theme of university drinking and party culture, as I use this to conduct my own investigation into the journey myself and my peers have been on.”
Stevens’ style is bold and bright, depicting detailed figures in action placed on loud and stunning solid colors, placing all emphasis on the figures exclusively. Stevens’ strategy of removing the object from the setting puts the actions and emotions of the objects under a microscope, focusing on the individual’s place in a dynamic social setting rather than the complexity and intensity that often surrounds such moments.
To place her work within a greater narrative, Stevens imploys tarot cards, citing tarot imagery both as a method of contextualizing the collection and a direct influence on the works themselves. Stevens explains, “Aside from the mystical connections, tarot cards are objects that represent situations and people through symbolism and characters… I connect my paintings to tarot cards as representations of the story they share. I want the connection between tarot and my work to spark a deeper consideration of the moments the viewer can recognize as recurrent in their own memory.”
Stevens and Adams display their inward-looking creative expressions in different mediums and different subject matter, but both make a brave and effective attempt to reconcile the relationship between nostalgia and growth, fully capturing the next-chapter mindset of the Sewanee senior.
Find more of Kara and Bailey’s work at @karaadams.photography and @baileystevensart on Instagram, and Kara’s personal business website, http://www.karalouiseadams.com.