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Junior photography student discusses stereotypes through her artwork

Throughout a student’s time at KU, he/she will often be able to see and experience interesting artwork. Whether it’s hanging in the library or displayed in Sheridan Art Building’s windows, there is art all over KU’s campus.
Featured currently on the Brick Wall outside of the Bear’s Den in the McFarland Student Union Building is junior Fine Art major Janine Ngai. Ngai has a concentration in Photography, and her artwork that is displayed are photographs of her peers and others, holding up a fact that the observer is meant to understand is about them.
When asked the inspiration behind her artwork, Ngai responded, “Most of the time when [people] were surprised by something I said or did, they said they couldn’t ‘picture’ me doing that. I took it to mean that something about my appearance said something other than what I was doing.”
She explained that she was intrigued by the fact that people have past experiences and ideas that other people do not assume simply by looking at them.
In one of her photos, a man is holding up a sign that says, “I write poetry.” The man featured is dressed like a typical guy, in jeans and a plaid shirt, and would not necessarily be pinned as someone who’d spend time in a creative writing classroom. Another features a female student in sorority letters holding up a sign that read, “I played football in high school.”
“I think a lot about stereotypes, what they mean and how they are formed. It is something that is inevitable,” said Ngai. “I wanted to capture the concept of contradictions between appearance and true facts to make the viewers rethink their stereotypes and first impressions of people so in the future they would be more aware of their expectations.”
Ngai felt it was important that the quotes be actual representations of her subjects.
“They [the quotes] are all true facts,” said Ngai. “The project would not have the same effect if I made them up.”
Originally, Ngai had taken pictures of her friends and other students in her studio photography class. After working on this project for some time, her professor, Rose Desiano, gave her a final critique that perhaps she “shoot a wider range of people.” With that in mind, Ngai reached out to former professors.
“For the show, I tried to include a somewhat balanced section of men and women, but it was not my main concern,” said Ngai.
When asked what her favorite part of creating this project was, Ngai answered, “Learning new stuff about my friends and professors. These were all quirky facts that might never have come up in conversation but were interesting to me.
“Another part of my concept was that the [person’s] fact might not seem strange to the person because it is a part of him or her,” said Ngai. “In the process of finding the perfect statement I learned a lot about each person and what they thought of themselves.”
Ngai discussed how this project was very exciting for her compared to other assignments she had worked on in the past.
“The technical and presentation aspects might not have been my best work, and the concept could be more developed but I think of it as a beginning,” said Ngai.
Ngai plans to continue this project in the future. She said that she will work on it simply, “Whenever I find someone with an interesting fact that I want to document.”

By Taylor Zimmerman

Categories: Uncategorized