February-March 2022 Student Spotlight
Erica Lewis, making art under their initials EVPL, is a third-year Master of Fine Art student who will graduate in May of 2022. The culmination of their degree, their thesis exhibition titled It’s All Fun And—, opens on April 15th at 5:00 PM in the UofL M.F.A. Building (1606 Rowan St).
Picture Credit: Jeremy Villar
Q: Describe your educational background (including undergrad):
A: I graduated from the University of Montevallo in 2019 with my Bachelor of Art in English, Bachelor of Fine Art in Studio Art, and a minor in Art History. In May, I will graduate with my M.F.A., the terminal degree for Studio Art, but I hope to continue my education in a Ph.D. program where I can further pursue scholarship, social justice, and artmaking.
Q: What brought you to the University of Louisville?
A: UofL Professor Ying Kit Chan had an exhibition at my undergraduate university during my senior year, as invited by two of my undergraduate professors who had worked with him during their own education at UofL. While visiting the University of Montevallo, he gave an artist talk about his artwork and another talk about the new graduate program at UofL. After hearing Professor Chan discuss the program's focus on scholarship and concepts, I talked to him about my interest, emailed an inquiry to tour, and was able to visit UofL the following week. Upon visiting, I talked more in-depth with Professor Chan who is now my Mentor and the Chair of my Thesis Committee. During this time, I also met Professor Rachel Singel at her Steamroll Relief Printing Event (which was a major moment for me as a printmaker), and she later became a member of my Thesis Committee and a personal mentor within Printmaking, as I now serve as her Printshop Manager.
Q: Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
A: I am particularly interested in researching rhetoric, bias, and social systems. As someone who grew up in a very conservative state surrounded by people who looked and thought like me, I had a substantial amount of bias within myself to uncover, recognize, and address. When I started at the University of Montevallo, I met so many new types of people and learned more about diverse life experiences through art and writing within my degrees. My art and research into bias, social systems, and equity are a direct response to holding myself and others accountable while promoting a better understanding of complicated subject matters from various perspectives. At UofL, I have been able to grow and further develop this understanding. For my research, I aim to create inclusive works of art that advocate for kindness, accessibility, and equity, especially as they pertain to systems and language.
Q: Awards, Honors, Artwork Publications:
- Dario A. Covi Award (2021)
- Excellence in Art History Award (2019)
- English Major Senior Elite (2018)
- Message *Special C-19 Issue. University of Plymouth Press, Online, Expected Spring 2022.
- Cover Artwork. Unsettling Archival Research: Engaging Critical, Communal, and Digital Archives. Edited by Gesa Kirsch, Romeo Garcia, Caitlin Burns, and Walker P. Smith. Under advanced contract at Southern Illinois University Press. Expected Spring 2022.
- Sanctuary Literary and Arts Journal, Southern Regional Honors Council, Print, 2018-2019 Edition.
- The Tower, University of Montevallo, Print, 2019.
- The Tower's 2018 Winter Online Release, University of Montevallo, Online, Winter 2018.
Q: How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?
A: By earning my M.F.A., I will be qualified and better prepared for my dream job of teaching at a university, be it in art or another creative interdisciplinary field. Further, I have learned so much about new disciplines and media, how the Art World works, the limitations of the Western art canon, and how to better create conceptually founded artwork as informed by research. I will take everything that I have learned here and bring it into my own future classrooms, by helping students to keep a critical eye on systems (like the canon), showing them examples of artists/artworks that represent them and others, and seeking out means of challenging art students conceptually within a safe, inclusive, and equitable environment.
Q: What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
A: Two things come to mind when thinking about what I am proud of. First, I am going to be published in an international peer-reviewed journal this spring, addressing the effect of Covid-19 on Graphic Communication. Second, I am immensely proud of the collaborations I have fostered within my department to make positive changes as part of our ongoing Diversity Plan, such as creating a #BlackLivesMatter #StopAsianHate banner in collaboration with an undergraduate student to promote their artwork and the message, seeking out new textbooks with more global perspectives, advocating for accessibility in our facilities for all students (current and potential), and removing/planning to replace posters containing biased "standards" of how to draw a face.
Q: What has been your favorite part of the graduate school experience at UofL?
A: I cannot overstate how much I have learned. My program and my mentors have constantly shared information regarding new opportunities or completely created them for me to gain experiences and participate in professional practices. I have gained so much from my professors, particularly Professor Ying Kit Chan and Professor Rachel Singel who I mentioned before. They pass along information they find about calls for grants, exhibitions, residencies, and publications, and both of them have offered me the opportunity to substitute for their classes to gain teaching experience. I meet with them on a regular basis to talk about my progress and how I am handling everything. I look forward to maintaining relationships with them wherever this next life stage takes me, and I will always be grateful for the impact they have made on my life by constantly believing in and supporting me.
A talent you have always wanted: Unfortunately for me in my chosen career path, I am not great at public speaking. I am actively working on that skill through practice and experience, but I have always had stage fright to varying degrees.
Favorite book: I hate to admit that I have not read a book outside of academia in quite a while, but I frequently watch/listen to TV shows while I am working in the studio. Without a doubt, my favorite show is The Good Place. I feel like it portrays a light-hearted, yet deep understanding of what life is like and gives me hope about people's ability to change in pursuit of kindness and "goodness."
Favorite quote: "Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures." ---Ralph Waldo Emerson
Role Model: I do not necessarily have a singular role model, but I am surrounded by so many people who inspire me, two of whom I will mention. My mother has always shown me, through a lived example, the value of working hard and taking concrete steps toward accomplishing my goals. As a mother of four who works full time in a hospital during the pandemic, she also went back to school online to earn the Master's degree that she had always wanted.
Another person who puts their words into action as a role model is my partner. He constantly teaches me what it means to truly care for people, pursue understanding, and exercise kindness. He does this in our daily life, in his research, and in the institutions surrounding him.
Favorite Vacation Destination: As an art student, I always look for museums wherever I travel (and yummy local meals along the way!). I find it very exciting to finally see artworks that I have studied in person, and I also take note of new and exciting artists that I can bring back to share with my students or to further inform my own practice. I have so much more traveling to do, so I cannot confidently say that I have a favorite, but Studio B in New Orleans and Art Basel in Miami have been some of my favorite locations to visit so far.
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? In a perfect world, I would be teaching and making art, traveling as much as possible, and pursuing a more local (rather than academic/institutional) means of advocating for equity both within my research and personal life.