The Light is Still On: the 23rd Thacher Art and Architecture Annual

While the Thacher Gallery prides itself on displaying the work of local artists, its most recent exhibition is more localized than ever, as it is almost entirely a student production. All the art was not only created by USF students, but the exhibition itself was curated, designed, and hung by the Art History and Museum Studies Thacher Practicum class. The hard work of these students came together on Friday, May 6, with Thacher Gallery’s first in-person opening in two years — the 23rd rendition of the Thacher Art and Architecture Annual exhibition, this year titled “The Light is Still On.” 

The exhibition celebrates the hope and light that art can shed on dark times, such as the pandemic. “It’s about different ways that people heal,” said Mary Lou Grace Robinson, a senior fine arts major. “We wanted to keep it lighthearted by saying there’s a ‘light at the end of the tunnel.’”

Some of the pieces are lighthearted, like “Pandamonium” by Natalie Ng, a junior fine arts major, which includes dozens of tiny stoneware pandas. Others are reflections of the very darkest shadows that loom over us, like Mary Lou Grace Robinson’s paintings “Guilt,” “You’ve Had Too Much,” and “More Guilt,” which demonstrate the stages of an abusive relationship. In addition, Lily Basting’s “Pinch, Pull, Press” was created to showcase personal insecurities. 

“Most of my artwork is based around beauty and insecurities,” Basting said. “I’ve had this idea in mind for a long time and wanted to represent those [insecurities] in artwork to accept them.” All of the pieces came together to show resilience and healing, even in difficult times. 

Thacher practicum professor Nell Herbert was the guiding force behind the project, but it was the students who made the gallery come to life. “Early in the semester they conceived of a theme of growth and healing,” Herbert said. “They infused this idea into every aspect of the curatorial process, which resulted in a thoughtful and cohesive exhibition; I’m really proud of what they accomplished.” 

The Thacher practicum class gave these student curators a deeper understanding of their field. All the minute details of the gallery, like the arrangement of art around the room, the lighting, and the installment process, are meant to be lost on the average viewer so that the art is the focus. But curating an exhibition requires giving thought, time, and energy to every single one of those details. 

“The most challenging part of the class would have to be the text panel,” said freshman art history major Kerra Hendrickson. “Throughout the class we had many discussions about putting the text panels in different languages so they were more accessible. But with only a few weeks till the exhibition opened and trying to figure which languages to translate are most important, we decided to let the artist decide if they wanted a separate text panel in their native language that would be included in the exhibition.”

Just before the opening, art department students and professors gathered with guests in Xavier Auditorium to celebrate the best artists USF has to offer. Awards were given for graduating seniors with outstanding grade-point averages, as well as for artistic excellence, awarded to artists chosen by their peers. Jacob Siu-Zmuidzinas and Somer Taylor, for instance, were both awarded the Mary and Carter Thacher Prize for their works “Sacrifice” and “I is…I am…” respectively. Senior Andre Canta was a co-recipient of the Student Choice Award for his work “Praying Hands of a Sinner,” alongside Mary Lou Grace Robinson for her paintings.

Maj Jenkins, a senior design major, was also recognized for their outstanding work. Jenkin’s art celebrates challenges and renewal, and they were awarded by both their department and their peers as one of the winners of the Leadership in Design Award, as well as the Gloria Osuna Pérez Award, named after the prolific Chicana artist of the late 20th century, which they won alongside Georgia Brabec. “I am shaped by the hands I was created by, which is to say, I am like everybody else and at the same time like nobody else,” Jenkins said. 

“From artisan hands to hands I have been passed, from potter to sculptor; my parents, SFUSD, and most recently USF… and at times, I have been dropped and cracked, shattered,” Jenkins continued. “Unintentionally. Intentionally. My artwork is an effort to mend and smooth over these cracks.” 

Between the inspiration of the artists, the thoughtful process of the Thacher practicum, the guidance of the professors, and KUSF’s fitting DJ set, the whole evening captured the hope of young people during a pandemic, something which was reflected in USF’s art and architecture program. Jenkins summed up the spirit of the event, saying “In these works, I want to represent that within even the most challenging and powerless situations lies the potential to express ourselves in beautiful ways. I hope that this exhibit reminds viewers of their inner strength and beauty throughout their most difficult trials in life.”

“The Light is Still On” will be on display in the Thacher Gallery from May 6 to June 26.

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