Illinois State’s Image of Research competition offers students the opportunity to marry art and research. No better example of this union was the entry by Triston Brown, M.S. ’20.
Brown, who graduated in December with a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, researches the contemporary social life and historical disenfranchisement of Afro-Brazilians and positions dance as a function of and a turnstile for socio-cultural evaluation. She submitted a photograph of six dancers in Pelotas, Brazil, that she took while doing fieldwork there in 2019. The image shows members of the Daniel Amaro Afro-Dance Company in three pairs doing a similar dance together but different from the other pairs, which Brown said “displays unity and apartness simultaneously.”
“I am grateful to have finished my chapter at ISU with this award. I thought it was a special image because it really embodies the somewhat cliffhanger title “Dance and Know You Are a Part”—know you are a part of something greater or a part of history, you know. Though the choreographed movements are intentional and calculated, they are also personal and freeing.” Brown said. “It’s impacting.”
So too thought the judges who awarded it a first-place winner (tie) in the graduate student category in the second annual Image of Research at Illinois State juried competition. A glimpse of the winners shows representatives from the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, the Wonsook Kim School of Art, the School of Communication, the School of Biological Sciences, and other units from throughout the University.
“I was really impressed with the diversity from across campus,” said Office of Student Research Director Dr. Gina Hunter. “(The competition) appeals to a lot of different students.”
The competition was held online this year, just like last year’s contest, due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Hunter is hoping that for a future edition the images can be displayed in a gallery. She said the competition offers the public a chance to see what scholarship is happening on campus.
“It helps convey the difference that research makes,” she said. “It’s an educational opportunity for students that I hope to expand.”
Participants submitted one compelling, static image of their research along with a brief narrative. There were 19 finalists, who were divided into undergraduate and graduate categories, and winners received monetary awards.
A three-member committee—Normal painter and illustrator Jessica Benjamin ’99; former University Galleries Director Barry Blinderman, and professional photographer Gail Matesevac— evaluated the submissions for visual impact, originality, and the connection between each student’s image, narrative, and research project.
Brown tied for first with Sargylana Cherepanova, an M.F.A. student in the Wonsook Kim School of Art. Cherepanova used video game design software she learned about in class at Illinois State to create a phantasmal image that conjures her feelings of being on a playground in her native Yakutsk, Russia.
Cherepanova said her work, which fits within the Indigenous Futurisms art movement, counters perceptions that Indigenous artists like herself would not be technologically adept. She said the award has inspired her, and she was grateful for the professors and colleagues in her program.
“It is unexpected. I’m obviously excited,” she said.
Isolde Mckiernan, a molecular and cellular biology major, took first place in the undergraduate category for a photograph she took of the inner workings of the brain of a scuttle fly. She explained the research objective in her entry narrative: “Here, we use live, 3D (fluorescence lifetime imaging) FLIM microscopy to show that the antenna of a scuttle fly exhibits strong differentiation among different types of sense organs.”
“Biology is very important to me. Photography has been my favorite hobby since I was really young. To be able to combine both was very fun to do,” Mckiernan said. “I’m very grateful to enter and to win is amazing. And I’m very grateful to my professor.”
Combining art and research also motivated School of Communication master’s student Rocky Roque, who placed in the competition for the second consecutive year. This time he received second place for his image titled “Mask for Mask? Queer Hook-up Culture during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which shows a man wearing a mask made of messages sent through the Grindr app. “I wanted something that was symbolic,” Roque said.
He called the Image of Research one of his favorite activities at Illinois State for allowing him to apply his art skills to a representation of his scholarship. “It’s a fun activity,” Roque said.