Storytelling: an art exhibit

Amy Rangel
The Storytelling exhibition

An exhibition called Storytelling, by artist Sarah Nguyen is being showcased at College of the Sequoias in the art gallery. Alongside Nguyen’s paper art are multiple short stories, and poems written by COS professors from the English department in collaboration.

“ We picked Sarah because we want to show a variety of art, not just oil paints, or sketches, “ said Amy Rangel, an adjunct Professor at COS and the art gallery manager,” We liked her art because it was different instead of using the paper to make the art–the paper is the art.”

Sarah Nguyen has a BFA in illustration, and an MFA in painting; she is currently the Art director of Pleiades Press and Pleiades magazine in Missouri. There are eight pieces of Sarah Nguyen’s paper artwork in the art gallery, each one telling a different story with whimsical nature-inspired looks from the elusive moon, to an interwoven spider web, trees, flowers, birds, and more. The paper artwork hangs loosely from the wall to allow for a shadow behind the piece. The paper itself is eight feet tall, and behind the paper is a colored background of blue, yellow, orange, pink, or green.

“My work starts with a story. When you go and see the exhibit ideally you see where there is enough shadow behind the pieces. It’s like you’re viewing the spirit of the piece,” said Sarah Nguyen.

At an artist residency in Japan in 2015, Nguyen learned the Japanese term for “Kami”. It means paper, spirit, or hair. This is where Nguyen began testing out paper artwork with the idea that her artwork had a spirit. The following year in France at another artist residency, Sarah Nguyen, visited the replica of the Lascaux cave paintings– what stuck out to her the most were the shadows on the walls when the guide turned off the lights.

“ I thought I want to work with paper and I want to work with shadows. So, that’s how my work came about,” said Sarah Nguyen.

Next to the paper artwork, there are six pieces of writing produced by: Jaime Moore, Erik Armstrong, Stacy Brand, James Espinoza, Christina Lynch, and Robert Vasquez. In the form of poems and short stories–they interpret Nguyen’s art and tell their own stories.

“ There are so many connections with all the arts, whether it’s music, whether it’s a visual art, or whether it’s dance–I feel like there’s a natural fit,” said James Espinoza, commenting on the collaboration of the Art and English department.

The English Professors from Cos working on the collaboration were sent digital images of Sarah Nguyen’s artwork, otherwise, they had no other communication with the artist. They each started with the image of the art, of their choosing, and then let their imaginations take it from there.

Jaime Moore wrote “You Are”– it’s a short story about the hardship of a girl losing her grandmother, but it also reflects the strength of that relationship even after death. It corresponds with the paper artwork titled God Heard.

Moore said,” I would hope my writing adds one way of interpreting her [Sarah Nguyen’s] beautiful image and to expand our notion of thinking about how we hold the spirits, traditions, and gifts of our ancestors with us forever.”

Robert Vasquez wrote “Shaded” a sensual poem about mushrooms, corresponding to Picking Mushrooms in the Moonlight. Erik Armstrong wrote “Sonder” a poem discussing how humans deal with death, change, and transformation through a child’s eyes. His long narrow poem mimics the artwork of Nguyen’s piece Indo-combing form.

“ I think of art as inviting the reader or viewer into an intimate conversation, whether that’s a sculpture, or a beautiful piece of paper art, like this,” said Christina Lynch.

Christina Lynch wrote “Barbra–Foreign” a short story that connects the reader and a tree by putting them into a conversation. Her short story comes at a time when the Sequoias are ablaze and is inspired by Nguyen’s artwork titled Barbra. Stacy Brand wrote the poem titled “Dandelion seeds”; it expands on Nguyen’s idea of myths and legends for the artwork titled Kate; pure. And, James Espinoza wrote “An origin story” about a female chosen one inspired by the artwork, Devorah; Bee.

“ Hopefully this brings back to a more innate sense of how to navigate the world,” said Erik Armstrong on the topic of Nguyen’s collaboration,” Which is that [people] are drawn to the picture and the text helps them understand the picture in a deeper way.”

The exhibit will be on display until October 8th, and appointments must be made ahead of time, as well as masks worn in the gallery. The gallery is open Tuesday-Friday from 11:00 am-4 pm. There is also an online gallery viewing available on Facebook for those unable to go in person On September 30th there will be an artist talk over zoom with Sarah Nguyen, and all the COS Professors to discuss the art, and the writing in-depth.