A group of students from Bloomington High School didn’t let anything stand in their way to curate the latest exhibition from University Galleries in Normal.
“Subtle Time” features the work of artist Nazafarin Lotfi and is on view this summer through the Galleries website. The show is the culmination of months of learning, exploring, questioning, and working by the Teen Arts Group. Founded in 2018 by Galleries Director and Chief Curator Kendra Paitz, the Teen Arts Group consists of 15 Bloomington High students who are interested in a career in the art world. With support from The Illinois Prairie Community Foundation-Mirza Arts and Culture Fund, the group participated in professional development activities.
“They gain first-hand experiences with contemporary art,” said Tanya Scott, curator of education at the Galleries. “They learn about the multi-faceted nature of gallery work, they meet with working artists, and they curate an exhibition.”
The focus of the exhibition is Lotfi, who works in sculpture, drawing, still photography, and video. According to Scott, Lotfi embraced the opportunity to have her work curated by the Teen Arts Group.
“Lotfi was incredible to work with. She was really responsive to the Teen Arts Group. She really loved the idea of being a part of this. It was such a different experience than she had had before.”
Lotfi is accustomed to working with young people, said Scott, noting, “She has a background in education. She gave them full autonomy with her artwork. She loved hearing the student's thoughts and questions when talking about her artwork with them.”
One of the questions put to Lotfi from the students involved what music she listens to when she creates her art, revealed Scott.
“But she doesn’t actually listen to music that much when she’s making art. Which just broke all the students' hearts,” said Scott, laughing. “She told them she was open to suggestions, and the next day they had a playlist ready to share with her. She was really interested in the students and their perspectives.”
According to Scott, everything with the group was going swimmingly. That is, until the pandemic brought a halt to the students' regular school year. But the virus didn’t derail their ambitions.
“Originally, the plan was for Lotfi’s work to be onsite here at University Galleries," said Scott. "The Teen Arts Group had already begun planning what gallery space they would like to utilize and which of Lotfi’s work they would like to have in the exhibition.”
“However, the pandemic resulted in a swift change of plans. The Teen Arts Group, in particular, was adaptable and on board for continuing the exhibition in an online format," she said. "The students developed interview questions and conducted a Zoom interview with Nazafarin Lotfi. They also developed educational workshop ideas and handouts, which are online.”
They also chose which of Lotfi’s works would be in the online exhibition. In short: all of them.
“Which was cool because it was something that they wouldn’t be able to do because of the limitations of the physical gallery space,” Scott enthused. “So, instead of having to select specific works, they got to have all of them. And then they planned the layout for the Flickr gallery.”
The gallery of work by Lotfi is bracketed by a pair of videos the artist shot during the recent lockdown. Inspired by the circumstances of the pandemic, Lotfi explored social distancing in her videos.
“The videos are performances of her hikes in the Sonoran Desert. They were a response to Covid," said Scott. "This was a way for her to share her experience with those she could not be around, and also embedding these allegories of the human relationship to the landscape and how the landscape impacts our individual and collective identities.”
Shifting the exhibition online won’t detract from viewer’s appreciation of it, said Scott.
“Seeing the work together, in the way that the Teen Arts Group has arranged it to flow from one of Lotfi’s performances and ending with the other performance, it has this really beautiful capstone to it. Getting to see all of the works at once helps you to see the relationships between them. I’m hoping that it gives people a really full perspective on her work, in a way that they may not have been able to get with the limitations of the physical space.”
“Subtle Time” continues through the summer at the University Galleries website.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.