UNLV Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art

Art as a Journey: A Vivid Experience

by Tra Andra' Mitchell

Art as a Journey: A Vivid Experience

Left side of image: video still from Self Portrait (Jigéen, Jabar, Yaye, Ndey), by Yacine Tilala Fall. Right side of image: Exvotos Rotos No. 5 (Troll) by Dan Hernandez, photographed by Mikayla Whitmore.


Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art intern Tra Andra' Mitchell reflects on their experiences in the Museum.


As a student who has been on this campus since 2011, I have what I'm calling old ties to this museum and the garden surrounding it. When I was a freshman, I spent time here walking the various exhibits—taking it in. I regularly engaged with the materials put out before me, allowed them to reshape and revise my ideas while struggling with identity and the politics of gender as we know it. I was in transition, much like the way this city moves and how art is transitional. I always had questions; for myself and those around me. More importantly, like many art pieces I have seen, I wasn't whole but rather a work in progress. When I think of the word "transition," it comes to me as a concept of movement through life and not a change I make to my body or appearance simply because I am identified as Nonbinary under the Transgender umbrella. Life, to me, is like an installation of artwork in series and events; it is the gallery of the events that occur in the life you currently inhabit. We put these experiences up for review, both by our peers and ourselves. I think of the word "navigation" as an idea of how I apply my experiences while transitioning in life and adapting to and alongside my changing environment as I continue to grow into the person I want to become. It serves as a corkboard full of pinned memories and many disconnected thoughts mixed with varying versions of one concept or another. I think of the phrase "work in progress" as a theory of my movements through experiences in my surrounding environment. I believe in some way we are all works in progress and will continue to be so even after we are gone. I think it's the most humbling of experiences in life to know you're not where you could be, that you've got potential to grow and create beyond where you are now. That is the beauty of embodying the meaning of being a work in progress! Your journey to yourself and guiding yourself through life towards goals that enrich your experiences is everchanging, full of the cliché possibilities and the opportunity to grow in so many directions. I experience my life as I experience the museums that have directly impacted my thoughts and actions. 

From music to live performances to paintings, art has been the standard connection between human beings that transforms thought into feeling. When you walk through a museum surveying the art, think about how that art impacted you. How did you feel after seeing it? Did the piece inform you or challenge you? How did it, if at all, change you? We are the mediums for conveying emotions, thoughts, and ideas by using art to help us reach another person who may not understand the way something feels or what that something may look like to the artist. The way art brings light in dark places or evokes childhood memories is something that is an undeniably universal experience. Here at the Barrick, I've always found myself fully submerged and resubmerged every time I walk in. Being in any art museum is an experience, unlike other museums. It calls to a deeper part of a person to be in the moment and take it with them on their journey. 

A journey is what the Barrick continues to take me on whenever I step into the curved building. I've journeyed back and forth into the Barrick and, this time, I find myself submerged in a new part of this ocean of experience. Recently, I've been allowed to experience the journey through nostalgia with a resident soul here at Barrick, Dan Hernandez. Nostalgia is the conduit that bridges the gap between the past and the present, typically the happier past. While viewing his series, "Exvotos Rotos," I felt what any elder sibling feels remembering a toy broken or lost via younger hands. He took me on a journey to long drives from LA back to North Hollywood or Palmdale. While he may have been in Germany with his younger brother stealing his toys or provoking him to tears, I was in California. We were simultaneously in the same car and completely different regions of the world. Artists take you with them when they create, and I'm almost always down for a road trip through their eyes. Dan's work was a solid reminder of how strongly art moves me. When I view anything, I'm immediately plunged deep into the world the artist has created for me. I become a part of their world and their medium; my mind follows every stroke, every pixel. By extension, I experience life this way. My imagination is so vivid that I will go on the journey with each character and experience every emotion even if I'm reading a story. I cry when they cry, feel lost when they lose, and experience euphoria when they do. 

Dan's installation in the "Future Relics" show was a stark and vivid reminder of how art journeys create new worlds and rebuild old worlds for the person viewing them. As the eldest sibling, the thing I connected with most was the feeling of total loss over something people typically tell children isn't necessary and the beauty of understanding how that affects me today. There's something sacred about having something to yourself as the eldest sibling. You cherish it for specific periods, so having those things taken from you at a young age can affect the mind. Dan's installation was a reminder of that loss and nostalgic happiness of being so glad to own said item. However, it was a conversation for me as well. I found myself questioning how that loss affects me today, and I quickly realized it affected my memory. I experience things the way I do and in such vivid detail because I experienced the loss of many things taken from me at some point and, regarding this installation, as the eldest child. It wasn't always that someone physically took something from me either; it was things lost in stores, on trips to visit family, in the next room, under the couch. I think what Dan's installation reminds us of- reminded me -that loss we experience as children carry us through adulthood and manifest differently throughout the rest of our lives. I've always been someone who cherishes moments and the time I spend with people. So, I remember each detail of every experience I have so that I never forget them, and if I do, they can easily be recalled by a simple scent of a rose or the sound of bees while the sunlight hugs my skin.

Additionally, I've also been afforded the journey to a new place. As much as art can take us back, it can move us elsewhere entirely. I first experienced shock when I saw artist Yacine Tilala Fall's work in the "A Common Thread" show and quickly experienced spirituality after that. Through performance and raw materials (amongst various other mediums), Yacine took me to roots on another continent and then connected those roots back here. The journey with Yacine was one of thought; her performance in "Self Portrait (Jigéen, Jabar, Yaye, Ndey)" evoked a sense of uncertainty and a purpose of wandering between worlds. I took to Yacine's work because of her use of raw materials. While researching her work, I learned that she was interested in using these materials because they seemed to draw a connection between our humanity and the places we inhabit while also commenting on our effects on the world around us. "Self Portrait" pulled me through a journey through womanhood and acceptance, which Yacine describes the piece as being a commentary regarding her mother's immigration to the US from Senegal. 

 However, I didn't quite make that specific connection because I am not a woman by any means. But I accept my experience as one; because of watching her performance, I found myself more affirmed in my identity, and I had a newfound respect for a journey that I was only allowed to view. This piece was the first time the artist didn't take me with them (for me, that is). Typically, I feel like I'm in the artwork while I'm engaging with it or that I'm somehow with the artist as I discover the hidden meanings and messages throughout the piece. With Yacine's work, I felt like I was born with her in a way. It was as if I was allowed to watch from the sidelines as it carried me throughout the journey. Yacine kept her story to herself while simultaneously sharing a piece of her actual journey to existence through her mother's story. It was the fact that it wasn't her story that created the space for a reminder of whom we accept and why. In a mere two and a half minutes of watching her performance on a screen, I found myself understanding where womanhood could be placed in my own life and how much mother is important. I went through a short journey, yes, but not through her or her mother's story. Instead, I found myself on a journey to accepting womanhood and privilege to receive myself as "who" versus "what." Performance art is funny that way. You never really know just how the artist(s) will pick you up and how you'll be allowed to travel with them. You go. Yacine's art takes me on a journey through conversation- with me, with you, etc. Her work keeps my thoughts full and my mind always buzzing with new thoughts, concepts, and ideas. 

When the world offers you rough materials, you make them into art and express that art through performance for the world (or your local galleries) to see and feel. Picture walking into a gallery fully prepared to walk around and take in all there is to see. Whether it's a more stoic endeavor or a facial journey, we all react to art in various ways that impact how we see the world and interact with it afterward. Art is impactful, and when seen, it is rarely not felt; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Art is the objective, and our experiences are the mediums for which we navigate the world. I live my life in vivid memory of every experience I've ever had, and I never truly forget them, but I archive them for another time. My recent experience as an intern here at the Barrick has been yet another journey I'll take with me for the rest of my life. I find myself grateful and whole this time because the reality is, despite my impending graduation, Barrick is a moving journey for me. It will always be a stopping point on my road trip throughout my journey to self and through life. I am thankful, and I am whole. 

 
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