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Faculty-Student Art Show Sets Inspiration in Motion

Journeys, Past and Future, Link Exhibits, Participants

UMass Lowell Image
Art students Duy Hoang, left, and Lars-Erik Miller, right, had the opportunity to show work with faculty member Wael Kamal, center, in Dugan Gallery. Photo by Seth Izen

By Julia Gavin

Journeys are often connected to art, either as a theme or as a way to document progression. University members shared their artistic journeys in a joint art show, leading to new opportunities for all involved. 

“Sound of Light”– featuring faculty member and photographer Wael Kamal and sculpture students Duy Hoang and Lars-Erik Miller – brought hundreds of people to Dugan Gallery in February. Kamal conceived the show as a way to connect with students in his then role as a visiting faculty member developing the new journalism and media studies (JMS) program. His interdisciplinary background as an artist, educator and Egyptian film industry professional has allowed him to work with many different professionals on campus, but the chance to show with students as artists was new. The show was co-sponsored by the Art Department and Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture.

“The first time I won an award for my photography I was still a student, but a professional’s name was on the entry due to a clerical mistake, and they accepted the honor,” says Kamal. The error was fixed and he eventually received the award, but the attention made him realize he was an actual artist. He began to wonder what he could offer the world with his work. Now, he helps students make the same discovery.

Hoang’s exhibit used wood, light and live plants to create an installation titled “Amytis of Media.” The sculpture was inspired by the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built by Nebuchadnezzar II for his homesick wife Amytis. Hoang explored the garden’s role as a gift, incorporating strawberry plants into his sculpture to produce berries.

“Since the sculpture was indoors, I needed to take care of the strawberries with water and light to nurture them and grow the berries,” says Hoang. “Supporting the plant’s life cycle was part of the gift of the sculpture.” 

Hoang’s exploration of a person far from home appeared in Kamal’s work as well. Large black and white photographs documented his 1996 visit to Bedouin homes in his native Egypt, and newer photos catalogue his time since coming to the University in 2012. The earlier desert journey led Kamal to oases where people who lived in mud houses with intriguing architecture referred to him as a foreigner for his Western clothing. The Massachusetts photos feature his family seeing snow for the first time among other experiences in their new home.

One picture shows dark stairs leading up to a Bedouin front door with only the sun highlighting the curved steps. Kamal doesn’t use software to alter his photographs, relying on light, lenses and his cinematic eye to capture a scene. A photo taken 16 years later in the downtown Lowell Boott Mills shows another culture’s winding stairs fading into dark.

“My photographs show stories that aren’t fully told,” says Kamal. “The light fades and the viewer can imagine what is in the shadow. I don’t title my pieces, so that viewers can experience it for themselves, as I did while taking the photo.”

Miller's installation of geometric shapes on the wall opposite the gallery morphed as he continued painting during the show. He incorporated feedback from Kamal and his peers, creating a scene that reminded many viewers of Egyptian pyramids.

The show also served as inspiration for viewers. Kara Waxman’s Drawing II class drew Kamal’s photographs, adding their point of view to Bedouin interior design and Lowell mill buildings.

“This experience of working with a professional artist on this show was invaluable for our students, “said art department chair Prof. James Veatch. “We plan to offer more opportunities like this in the future.”

Set a Tone for the Semester

The artists finished the semester in much the way they began: exploring their work and finding the next chapter of their journeys.

Kamal became a lecturer in March, bridging the art and JSM programs. His work as the interim JSM director has been fruitful, filling classes and attracting new students interested in the growing field. Kamal’s work now hangs in several offices through campus, including the Admissions gallery in Dugan Hall.

Miller and Hoang continued to build their portfolios and find new professional experiences. Both students are traveling to Israel over the summer to visit the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Israel with a group from the art department. The trip will strengthen the relationship between the schools and offer students international exposure to design applications.

Hoang, who graduated in the spring, will travel to Iowa for a monthlong artist-in-residence program. The selective Grin City Collective offers 12 students housing, studio space and public opportunities to focus on their art in a collaborative setting. The program’s community garden already has Hoang thinking up new ideas for sculptures and community outreach projects.

“I still have so much to learn that I feel like I’m graduating too early,” says Hoang, who presented his senior project, “Dolina” at Lowell’s Uncharted Gallery. “But I want to keep learning and I know that means my education will never end.”