Student art project reflects college culture

White foam board decorated with magazine cutouts and colored sketches line the windows of the Spine that connects the Student Union and the Engineering Building.

Before spring break, UAA adjunct professor Debi Richmond assigned an art project to her undergraduate Cultural Anthropology class to create graffiti. Her students had been studying the course’s section on art, ranging from hunter-gatherer tools to modern-day paintings.

“Art is an expression of the culture. As culture changes, so does art,” Richmond said.

Richmond initially taught in the Community Technical College at UAA. Once she finished her master’s degree in anthropology, she began teaching the undergraduate course.

“I decided that giving hands-on projects would be much more beneficial and give (the students) the same expressive outlet they would need to research,” Richmond said.

Richmond said the purpose of the assignment was for the students to find their passion and express it through graffiti. With size as the only limitation, the passions of students range from religion and politics to travel and sports.

“There are no cultures who do not express art,” Richmond said. “Every culture has art; how they express it is different. We looked at how they are different and what they mean and how art is displayed.”

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Richmond explained that a certain style of art, whether in architecture or music, would be shared with other cultures that would incorporate that style into their own culture.

“I thought about music, and how rap music has influenced music around the world. There’s Russian rap artists, Japanese rap artists, so it kind of started in the U.S. but it’s evolved to other cultures,” Richmond said.

One of Richmond’s students, Nick Zapata, created a charcoal drawing of a dilated eye looking into the future. The pupil is shaped as the Earth with words like “joy” and “harmony” boldly etched in the center. The drawing is an ideal way of how our culture should be, Zapata said.

He added that the art assignment was a fun alternative to a writing assignment.

“You have more freedom to express your perception and have a broader spectrum to express yourself, where an essay is more limited and focused on one thing,” Zapata said.

Richmond is interested in how students see cultures through art, Zapata said. He added that labeling certain art as aesthetic depends on the culture and where you’re coming from.

Whether the graffiti is a drawing or collection of photos, the class artwork in the Spine reflects art as a representation of students’ genuine passions.

“It’s a pretty good reflection of college culture and what is important to college students,” Richmond said.