Art project reflects on educational journeys

It is never easy to combine the natural sciences with the fine arts. Some would even wonder what that intersection would look like. To Sarah Valente (GRAD), it is a matter of looking beyond just the medium of art and the subject of a piece, and seeing the societal and cultural impact that comes with every piece.

As a student in the Brandeis Post Baccalaureate Program in Studio Arts with the Fine Arts department, Valente’s program is focusing on helping her build up her portfolio and continue her creative practice. Valente told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview that one of the great things about being in a small program is, “there are great facilities and resources and people to help you learn and talk about your art and network. Brandeis is really great at introducing you to the contemporary art community.”

Valente originally completed her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry with minors in Art History and Studio Art from The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. She also received her Master of Business Administration from Assumption College with a focus on Non-profit Leadership while she was in AmeriCorps.

Valente told The Hoot that she has always been a maker. She decided to major in Chemistry because she found it was a good way to understand the wide array of materials she was working with at a molecular level.

She decided to go into art because she was mainly interested in the “making” aspect. Valente utilizes an interdisciplinary and cross disciplinary approach. The interdisciplinary approach is the use of different materials and processes to make her art, while the cross disciplinary approach is the intersection of science and art.

At the end of her senior year, Valente decided to join AmeriCorps, which helped her explore both of her major interests, chemistry and art. She taught both science and art at The Nativity School of Worcester. According to their website, “Nativity School of Worcester is an accredited, independent, Jesuit middle school that provides a quality, all-scholarship education to underserved boys of all faiths. Drawing upon four pillars—strength, scholarship, character, and service—a Nativity education inspires self-discovery, responsibility, spiritual growth, and a lifelong dedication to learning.”

Valente also drew upon these pillars for her own inspiration for teaching and appreciated the social justice aspect that came with the Nativity School. “It opened my eyes to the different levels of education in America,” Valente told The Hoot in an interview. “I witnessed how education is power. Education can lead to growth opportunities. And in America, education looks very different based on conditions outside of a student’s control.”

At the moment, her work focuses on screen print, painting, quilting and relief structure techniques. According to Valente, “quilting comes with a rich history of storytelling and record keeping. Screen printing as a process keeps a cadence close to that of the book production process and rapid exchange of information. Portraiture references a long history of privilege and power, oftentimes reserved for the most influential individuals of any century.”

Valente’s inspiration for her current project, “Blanket Statement,” came from Scientist Portrait series, which Valente started at the beginning of the school year. “A major reason of why I do these portraits of scientists is a way for me to honor a group of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds who have accessed a historically privileged world,” Valente told The Hoot. As a woman in science, Valente was often told that the sciences were not for her, but that only furthered her motivation.

“I felt that they [the people she painted] were challenging that narrative and history and accessing a world that needed their perspective and continues to need it,” said Valente.

All the people that Valente painted came from underrepresented backgrounds, whether that be queer, female or a first generation college student. Valente herself is a first generation college student, with her parents coming from Portugal.

While Valente was visiting all these individuals to paint them, she was admiring their bookshelves and “I was impressed by their educational journey and what it recorded of their journey.”

It also made Valente think back to her time at the Nativity School, where they do not have a readily accessible library, according to Valente. Students would have the opportunity to go to the local library in Worcester and a school bus would come by the school every few weeks that acted as a “mobile library.”

“It is not only a display of Brandeis voices and a record of their education journey, but also an invitation to reflect on their own education journey,” Valente told The Hoot in an interview. “I hope people look at their shelves and get a little nostalgic. The piece inspires people to take a moment to reflect on their educational journey and hopefully find that they’ve taken something positive away from it and mobilize it and better the community around them.”

The blanket, ink on fabric, will showcase different bookcases of members of the Brandeis community. Valente explained how bookshelves are only a partial introduction to an individual. “There’s a lot more to an individual than their bookshelf. It’s a blanket statement to the journey people have undergone,” said Valente.

Valente hopes to continue to add more and more bookshelves as the piece goes on. “It is recording my time at Brandeis and the people I’ve met and the people who choose to engage with me,” said Valente.

“Blanket Statement” is a project that is a part of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts, happening April 7 through 14. The piece will be installed in the library from April 1 until the end of the spring semester.

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