Student Art Retrospective: Venus

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Over a year ago, James Wojtal ’18 began collaborating with fellow artists and friends Emma Brown ’17 and Andrew Perricone ’17. James noticed a few significant themes arising in his poetry. He had always loved Greek myth, intrigued by characters like Venus and Aphrodite. He identifies with Venus, understanding that her sexuality was extremely complicated, tainted by violence and forced to fit the desire of others. “When I was young, I was nervous for Venus and Aphrodite. So much was left unsaid in the myths — I didn’t know if Aphrodite wanted to be the goddess of love, if she was happy,” James told me. Investigating his perception of his own body as a site of both violence and sexuality, James Wojtal collaborates with Emma Brown and Andrew Perricone to investigate self-harm and the capacity of the body for both pleasure and pain in a multi-media project on show this week in the Horn Gallery. James’ poetry is accompanied by Emma’s photography and music by Andrew. These art forms combine to create a sensory experience so visceral that it mirrors the corporeal nature of the work.


A year of collaborating has allowed the artists and friends to communicate in a language of collaboration all their own. The collaborative nature of the project is inherent to the nature of the project. Emma and Andrew looked over James’ poetry, Emma and James sung in some of Andrew’s compositions, and James cut up Emma’s photographs that he posed in, a kind of self-mutilation in itself. Communicating and sharing their progress as they worked on the project, connections naturally arose and become the main themes of the show: silence in the music connotes a break in a line of poetry, or a slice in the altered photographs. All of the artists emphasized the importance of collaboration and how the integration of multiple minds and media add up to something greater than a sum of parts.

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The integration of media provides a venue for discussion of difficult topics. When spoken words fail to encompass the nuanced way one views their own body, I asked if the artists hope to spur a larger discussion at Kenyon about the ways we talk about body image, and the intersection of sexuality and self-harm. Both James and Andrew hesitated in responding. I realized that though conversation is a welcome response, the exhibition is about display. The exhibition is both vulnerable presentation and personal consideration of the role of sex and violence in James’ own life. James, Emma, and Andrew chose to investigate these ideas through poetry, photography, and music, instead of conversation. Precisely why this show is so powerful is because it thoughtfully deals with topics that are difficult to discuss –- here, they are given a voice through art.

Finally, the artists hope to communicate a message of self-love. An investigation of the body and its desires, its pleasures and pain, “I recognize how privileged I am as a white, cis male with an able body. The hope is that everyone leaves this show feeling empowered.” Through a project at once collaborative and introspective, James, Emma and Andrew have encouraged open conversation of body image and living with self harm.

The show closed on April 15th, but pieces from the exhibit are currently on sale. Contact Emma Brown ’17 ( for more info.

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