Story by Lana Sweeten-Shults
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau
In Ajienne Lambey's digital artwork “Happening Now,” tears stream down a Black woman's face as she watches a scene reflected in her red-rimmed sunglasses of a protester in a hoodie and coronavirus mask being arrested.
Lambey created the piece, striking in its repetition of the color red, during the protests following the death of George Floyd.
“I felt helpless and I felt angry and I didn’t know what to do,” said the Grand Canyon University IT/cybersecurity major (and graphic design minor) from Los Angeles, who didn’t participate in the protests because she didn't want to expose herself or her family to the coronavirus.
But she expressed her emotions in another way: through her art.
That first piece changed everything for her. “From that moment on, I kind of allowed myself to delve deeper and really envision what it’s like to be Black in America," said Lambey.
She was one of about a dozen artists who dappled the Promenade for the Un1ty One Week Art Walk, part of a series of events the Multicultural, Diversity and Inclusion Office is bringing to the campus this week to showcase diversity and multiculturalism through creativity.
Another of Lambey's works shows her taking a look at herself through different lenses and colors as she experienced the summer’s social unrest. The vibrant work, composed of four square images assembled into a larger square, shows herself on a yellow background, then orange, then a red background and, finally, on a deeper orange background.
“Every color represents a different feeling,” said Lambey, also a student coordinator in the Multicultural Office.
She goes from happy, represented by the yellow background, after hearing of the arrests that were made after the George Floyd incident, to angry, represented by the red background, after realizing police officers aren’t often tried in such cases.
Tuesday's Art Walk, the second event of Un1ty One Week, was modeled after First Fridays in downtown Phoenix, one of the country’s largest, self-guided art walks.
The idea of the weeklong series of events: “We wanted students to express themselves through unity and creativity,” said Multicultural Office Specialist Grace Kuehne.
Not only did visual artists show and sell their work, but performing artists shared a few songs and students were invited to sign the One Love banner.
“I feel like artists bring people together,” said Kuehne, who noted how students who were passing by stopped to look at the artwork and talk to artists about their inspiration, and how they sat on nearby benches to listen to music.
Darian Cruz, a junior majoring in English with an emphasis in professional writing, displayed her cut paper art pieces.
“I’m really inspired by children’s illustrations,” she said of the vibrantly colored works, which include a whimsical self-portrait of her peeking out from behind a sunflower.
“I love sunflowers. They kind of just turn to the sun. To me that translates to turning to the brightness, to the positivity."
It is a metaphor of how she wants to be – always turning toward positivity. It’s hard not to see the cultural influences in her work, too, which touches on life, death and traditional tattoo work.
Cruz, who like Lambey is a student coordinator in the Multicultural Office, was born in Mexico.
One of her artworks features a calf skull surrounded by calla lilies with a monarch butterfly spreading its wings on top of the skull.
“The skulls are pretty meaningful, especially when we’re hitting Dia de Los Muertos coming up,” said Cruz. The Day of the Dead, which will begin Nov. 1 and end Nov. 2, is an important Mexican holiday in which family and friends gather to remember their ancestors and loved ones who have passed away. “That’s kind of where I have my heritage tied to my art.”
The monarch butterfly also is significant in Mexican culture. They leave their summer homes in the northeastern United States and Canada and travel up to 3,000 miles to winter in southwestern Mexico.
“The butterfly represents migration, and my family and I are immigrants, so I wanted this piece to kind of capture that," Cruz said, while the calla lilies are a tribute to important Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo. Rivera, especially, included calla lilies in many of his paintings.
Junior graphic design and advertising major Ashlynn Hoover shared her surrealistic creations at the event. She puts her own creative spin on images that photographer friends share with her.
Several of her paintings are of women, several with crowns reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty’s crown, whose eye sockets are empty.
“A lot of it, for me, is no eyes is a no judgment type of thing,” she said. It refers to not judging a book by its cover and appreciating the beauty of another person “for what’s not right in front of you.”
Much like Cruz, Hoover said a cultural aspect reflected in her art is skulls.
“I’ve done lots of sugar skull work, because I am part Hispanic," she said. "I’ve done stuff like that, for sure, especially for members of my family.”
Sarah Brossow, a sophomore digital design major, was busy at the Art Walk drawing portraits for students who stopped by her table.
She showed her own animation work via computer screen and wanted to come out to support the Multicultural Office and other artists.
Senior advertising and graphic design major Claudia Parada wanted to attend the Art Walk because she had never shown her artwork publicly before.
“And also to check out other people’s art,” she said. She wants to attend other multicultural events on campus, “just to experience other people’s culture and points of view.”
Un1ty One Week follows two other big events organized by the recently expanded Multicultural Office – the One Love Awareness Walk during Welcome Week in September and Hispanic Heritage events in early October.
Coming up in Un1ty One Week are Wednesday’s presidential-style debate from 2-3 p.m. at Ethington Theater (seating is limited), a Cooking and Culture show from 6-7 p.m. Thursday at Canyon Field, and a worship night and parade of nations from 5-6:30 p.m. Friday on the Quad.
GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.