Exploring Culture Through Art

Art is different for everyone, so it should be no surprise that two master’s students chose art that is a little different than what is considered traditional.

Mai Tran pursues woodcut printmaking. She takes thin cuts of wood and carves out designs to create prints.

Each piece can take months to create, but it allows Tran to express herself and the culture she grew up with. 

“I get my inspiration from my Vietnamese culture and blend it with American culture,” Tran explained.

One such print that displays the two cultures Tran lived in is “There Will Always Be a Fence.” Tran said she tried to find the similarities between American and Vietnamese culture but found a barrier as she made it. 

“We are just so different, and I feel like no matter how hard I try, there is this wall or fence between us,” expressed Tran.

Many of Tran’s prints incorporate the cultures she grew up in and her love of mythology. 

“I have a lot of interest in mythology and animal studies,” she said.

That interest comes alive in every print. “Not Meant to Be” is one of Tran’s favorite pieces from the collection. She said the inspiration for the piece came from the Greek mythology tale of Apollo and Daphne and brought in strokes of her Vietnamese background to portray the two deities in a more animalistic form. 

“I like to tell classic stories in different ways,” said Tran.

Selena Medellin chose ceramic as her medium of choice. She said she loves creating works resembling other ordinary materials such as fabric while expressing her Mexican heritage.

“Ceramic is one of the most versatile mediums, and when I create my pieces, I play around with the idea of what is clay and what is not clay,” said Medellin. 

Each display piece incorporates a non-clay element to show how easily the clay is blended with the other mediums to create a mixed media piece. 

“Generally, people don’t exactly know it’s ceramic unless they touch it,” Medellin said.

Medellin’s “TRADICIONES” collection is inspired by her life growing up. 

“It’s basically a celebration of the people that have passed in my family and what I’ve grown to learn and love from them,” said Medellin.

Medellin has created eight pieces inspired by her culture, some of which viewers will recognize, such as “Remembrance,” which is tied into Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Some may even know the historical inspiration behind “Knick Knack to Life” numbers 1 and 2. Both of which touch on the Aztec ancestry of Medellin’s Mexican heritage.

Both Tran’s and Medellin’s artwork is experimental. They encourage other artists to try new methods and not give up even when it feels too hard.

Said Tran, “Everything is hard at first, but give it time and have patience.”

Medellin stated, “Don’t be afraid of what other people say, and don’t be afraid to play around. Never say you’re a bad artist. And know that we’re all just different kinds of artists.”

The artwork will remain displayed in the Conkling Art Gallery in Nelson Hall until Friday.

Header Photo: Mai Tran and Selena Medellin, both Masters students, display exhibitions to showcase their heritage. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Kendall Larson at kendall.larson@mnsu.edu

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