Mirror/Mentor brings together work by Warren Wilson College Art professor Lara Nguyen and three of her former students, Steven Horton Jr. (class of 2017), Sather Robinson-Waters (class of 2018), and Jess Self (class of 2014).
The diversity of media, styles, and themes in the art on view reflects Lara’s philosophy of teaching and mentoring. For Lara, the idea of being a mentor who is a mirror does not mean producing students whose work mimics her own. Instead, she follows the advice of her mother, who told her to set an example for her four younger siblings--mirror for them how to live fully in this world. As she worked, and sometimes struggled, to integrate the different layers of her own very full life, Lara discovered her students were as curious about this art of living as they were about learning artistic techniques and handling different media.
The terms of Lara’s life changed when she was diagnosed with uterine leiomyosarcoma cancer (uLMS) in 2018. Her works in this exhibition hold up a mirror to teach us her new reality: stage 4 cancer, incurable and terminal. The photo series Un-Broken pictures the scars from her own surgeries and the healed wounds of family and friends embellished in gold as a means of adornment and repair in the vein of the Japanese art of kintsugi. In Brushes with Death, the artist creates new tools from her own hair lost due to chemotherapy. The mixed media sculpture Forbidden Grapefruit is a new iteration of a poem written about her mother’s journey, which became a series of performances and installations.
The body as vessel, trauma, a daily artistic practice, making as a means of social justice, and repurposing and repairing with the hopes of reemergence are among the overlapping themes that connect the works of these four artists--teacher and students.