Slide Art Beyond Identity
story by DEBRA MURRAY photos by EMMA BAYENS illustration by CARLIE JEFFERIES

Jen Worley, a junior art education student from Louisville, created her piece, “Reckless Love,” based on her struggles with religion. The aluminum heart with a black patina displays peekaboos of a bright red interior that are made visible by several large holes and nails coming through the piece.

The piece was inspired by Worley’s struggles with religion.

Louisville junior Jen Worley holds a wooden design prototype for a leather patch made with a laser engraver. Worley planned to put the final patch, which was engraved with her initials and other designs, on a jean jacket.

“A lot of my pieces recently have been about being queer — several pieces on marriage equality and harmful experiences within the Christian church as a queer person,” she said.

Another piece of Worley’s, titled “God still loves you,” resembles the stained glass inside of a church made of vinyl with three layers of glass in a wooden frame that holds the image of two women kissing in the center. 

Worley gets inspiration from her life experiences and impressionist artists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. She runs an Instagram account to share her art and accepts commissions. 

Many of her pieces are glazed bowls, sculptures, various styles of paintings including abstract, impressionist, including one resembling a squid out of random objects.    

Worley said she doesn’t feel that people of color receive the same opportunities as white people, especially in art. 

“Western art is heavily influenced and based on white European styles and rules,” she said. “It can be hard for people of color to feel like they have a place in galleries where such fine-tuned styles and subject matter are wanted.”

While racism and Worley’s observations from being Asian have been strong considerations for the subject matter of her artwork, she has not made any pieces surrounding those issues. Instead she focuses on her experiences with religion or creating work inspired by artists she admires.

Worley said artists of color can often only be seen for their race instead of just being seen as an artist, which is a part of the reason she has yet to delve into those topics.  

Worley works on her 40 x 36 inch self-portrait response for her painting class in the Fine Arts Center studio. "It's a lot of thinking, brainstorming and procrastination until I get to that golden session where stuff really starts to happen for my painting," Worley said.
Cierra Pegg, a junior from Vine Grove, Ky., looks through prints of her art piece about psoriasis. "Some people don't want others to see it, but I wanted to take the opposite route and show the negative side of psoriasis," she said. "Artwork doesn't always have to be positive."

During the Black Lives Matter protests last year, Cierra Pegg, a junior graphic design major from Vine Grove, said she felt obligated to create art about her experiences as a Black woman. 

“I should not feel pressured to make my art specifically about my race because it’s the so-called ‘trend’ at the moment,” she said. “I am more than my experiences as a Black woman.”

Her art during this time period focused on creating portraits of her family and sketching different still life images.

She created a piece titled “Devil Baby” out of clay. It resembles a baby bottle filled with milk and has four red skulls with horns on top of it. Other pieces include a self-portrait made entirely of cardboard and a vinyl piece depicting mental health struggles titled “Are You Okay?”

“It’s really cool seeing a concept you’ve created in your mind physically come to life, especially when it’s personal,” she said. “It can be very powerful. Seeing people connect, understand and draw their own conclusions to your work is really great.”

Pegg creates mostly visual art so she can do something hands on. 

“I love doing hands-on stuff because you can gradually see the outcome of something evolve into its final form,” Pegg said. “You literally see all the time and effort spent into the artwork.”

A self-portrait sculpture made of cardboard sits on Pegg's desk in her apartment. "The art is expected to be so much bigger here," she said of WKU. "I had not made any pieces this big in my art classes at community college."

“I should not feel pressured to make my art specifically about
my race because it’s the so-called ‘trend’ at the moment."

- Cierra Pegg
Louisville freshman Ebony Dunn reaches for measuring tape while sewing a dress for her friend. Dunn used the Hugh Poland Hall study room as a space to practice sewing.

Ebony Dunn is a freshman from Louisville studying fashion merchandising. She uses her personal Instagram to share her outfits for different events and where she bought certain items. 

“I believe my sophomore year in high school I decided I wanted to be a prom dress or ball gown designer,” she said. “When the 2018 Met Gala came around, I was in awe of the intricate designs and bold looks of all of the pieces many high-end and upcoming designers created for the celebrities.”

While Pegg and Worley do not want to feel obligated to make art surrounding their race, Dunn feels it is important to use her voice and experiences as a Black woman in her work.

“In today’s society, people are very much awakening and looking to see what people of color are creating,” Dunn said. “We have stories that someone who is not a person of color wouldn’t have. Our stories are shared throughout our pieces, no matter if it is clothing, paintings or music.”

Dunn said the civil unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement inspired her to learn more about the history of Black fashion. She said she is specifically inspired by Anne Lowe, who is considered to be the first Black person to become a notable designer.

“Many designers pay tribute by recreating trends designers before them had created,” she said. “I want to do the same. I want to recreate an Anne Lowe off-the-shoulder wedding dress someday.”

Another designer that inspires Dunn is Zelda Wynn Valdes, who created the Playboy Bunny costumes.

“As I dive deeper into the fashion industry, I want to make sure Black fashion designers like Zelda Wynn Valdes aren’t forgotten,” she said. “I want to recreate what they had made. I want them to be remembered just like the world remembers Coco Chanel.” 

While Worley, Pegg and Dunn are all unique in their life experiences and the art they create, all three women are passionate about using their voice, in whichever way they choose, to express themselves and things that they believe in. 

“Sometimes I’ll see a painting or piece of work and think, ‘I could do that’ and then just try it,” Worley said. “I also find that art has given me a voice to express what I’m too afraid to say or don’t have the words to. Art isn’t necessarily explicit in its meaning so I don’t have to say what I’m afraid to. I can just take it, visualize it, and create from it.”

Dunn said the civil unrest and the Black Lives Matter movement inspired her to learn more about the history of Black fashion. She said she is specifically inspired by Anne Lowe, who is considered to be the first Black person to become a notable designer.

“Many designers pay tribute by recreating trends designers before them had created,” she said. “I want to do the same. I want to recreate an Anne Lowe off-the-shoulder wedding dress someday.”

Another designer that inspires Dunn is Zelda Wynn Valdes, who created the Playboy Bunny costumes.

“As I dive deeper into the fashion industry, I want to make sure Black fashion designers like Zelda Wynn Valdes aren’t forgotten,” she said. “I want to recreate what they had made. I want them to be remembered just like the world remembers Coco Chanel.” 

While Worley, Pegg and Dunn are all unique in their life experiences and the art they create, all three women are passionate about using their voice, in whichever way they choose, to express themselves and things that they believe in. 

“Sometimes I’ll see a painting or piece of work and think, ‘I could do that’ and then just try it,” Worley said. “I also find that art has given me a voice to express what I’m too afraid to say or don’t have the words to. Art isn’t necessarily explicit in its meaning so I don’t have to say what I’m afraid to. I can just take it, visualize it, and create from it.”

A process shot lays alongside paint for Worley's self-portrait response piece. Worley added paint to the process shot using Photoshop before making final changes to the painting.
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