Students from Niagara University’s Introduction to Museum Studies course navigated many emotions as they planned, curated, and installed “Connected Isolation.” This interactive exhibition at the Castellani Art Museum (CAM) of Niagara University explores the human experience during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The class of 13 used the museum’s internal and external digital database to each select five works from the CAM’s collection of over 5,000 world-class artworks. Through a challenging voting process, they narrowed their 78 selections to 16 pieces consisting of contemporary photographs, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures. Each student wrote their interpretation of one of the works and contributed to its installation.
“We started the semester with the premise that we'd examine a concept related to the COVID-19 pandemic for the exhibition, since it is a relevant shared experience,” said CAM director and class professor Ellen Owens. “Throughout the exhibition planning process, the students carefully defined what they wanted to convey through their artwork selections.”
“This exhibition is powerful and can be interpreted in many ways. That’s the best part about it,” said Bennett Hunt, a freshman history major who aspires to work in a museum space post-graduation. “You can go into the exhibition thinking about it negatively or positively. It has some somber works that are reminiscent of hardship, but the exhibition is also a testament to the strength of people. We can look at these images and reflect on how they make us feel. That’s a gift in and of itself.”
One of the lead exhibition pieces is a photograph titled “Christmas Wish” by former Niagara Gazette staff photographer Takaaki Iwabu, who is now employed as a photo editor for Bloomberg’s Tokyo bureau. The picture illustrates a young Chinese girl at her parent’s Niagara Falls, N.Y., restaurant on Christmas Eve.
Student curator Sebastian Newell said that although Iwabu’s photo was made 27 years ago, “the window sign ‘YES WE’RE OPEN’ is reminiscent of those seen in city windows during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“This image exemplifies the dichotomy between the hardship that small businesses experienced and their ability to overcome adversity.”
“It’s cathartic to reflect on the difficult times during the pandemic,” said Amaya Mack, a senior theatre studies major. “This whole experience has been a collective trauma. It’s interesting to reflect on our experiences together and see that even though we felt alone, we are together in how it made us feel. By reflecting on what happened, we can start moving forward.”
This exhibition comes on the heels of the CAM’s Nov. 17 opening of Ecce Sublimia: The Art of Christianity, which centers on how religion is taught at Niagara University using works from the museum’s collection, Western New York worship sites, and student research.
Introduction to Museum Studies is part of NU’s art history with museum studies major and is also a popular elective course. The major provides students with a scholarly and hands-on experience in curatorship, education, collections management, museum administration, development, and finances.
“Connected Isolation” is on view through March 26, 2023.