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The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
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Michael Lozada
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Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
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Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
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“Hand Me Down” explores love, loss and generational memory

Hannah Agpoon `22 and McKenna Doherty `22 at their show’s opening reception in Smith Gallery. Photo by Paul Hansen.

2022 Iowa College Media Association award winner, Third Place – Best Print/Online Review

The gentle murmur of voices from the past — preserved in VHS tapes and revitalized through short films— fills the Smith Gallery with quiet conversation, keeping viewers in comfortable company as they take in the warmth and whimsy of “Hand Me Down,” the latest student- produced show to run in the gallery.

The exhibit is the brainchild of friends and collaborators Hannah Agpoon `22 and McKenna Doherty `22, both studio art majors.

Onlookers admire various multimedia components of “Hand Me Down.” Photo by Paul Hansen.

At the exhibition’s opening on the evening of March 2, the festivities were reminiscent of a family gathering. Friends, faculty and community members embraced the artists, snapped photos and intermingled amidst the artwork.

At the door, a baby-pink welcome table offered goldfish, animal crackers, lollipops and little plastic barrels of juice, nostalgic novelties for kids of all ages.

As a space, the Smith Gallery is compact. In “Hand Me Down,” Agpoon and Doherty have fully capitalized on every opportunity the space offers, filling corners, walls, screens and floor space with works that are equally playful and touching.

The notion of a “hand me down” recalls the generational exchange of treasured garments, and while Agpoon and Doherty’s abilities to transform textiles into compelling pieces focused on family and memory is on full display, the show encapsulates more than just cloth work.

“A hand me down could be anything,” said Agpoon. “It’s a cozy thing that gets passed down person to person.”

Working from this definition, the pair wrap viewers in a multimedia and multigenerational experience. The tangible and abstract hand me downs that have played a role in Agpoon and Doherty’s lives are a constant theme throughout the exhibit. Both artists cited their families as sources of inspiration, not only for their artwork, but for the Smith Gallery show itself.

Sometimes, this influence is immediately apparent, such as in “Memory I Don’t Actually Have,” in which Doherty surrounds a drawing of her grandparents with colorful polymer clay.

In other works, like Agpoon’s “Mango Sleeves,” generational allusions become clearer with time. In “Mango Sleeves,” Agpoon suspends pleated half-ovals of vibrant yellow muslin from the gallery’s corner, evoking both the “butterfly sleeves” of “ceremonial Filipiniana dresses,” like those worn by her great-grandmother on her wedding day and the golden mangoes growing on the farm her grandfather grew up on.

Throughout the exhibit, the theme of memory offers an opportunity to fondly reflect upon past joys, while recognizing the loss inherent to growing up and the experience of a family at large.

As a collection, “Hand Me Down” is “a little bit playful,” said Agpoon, “but also sentimental,” said Doherty.

Upon hearing the pair’s backstory, one cannot help but think that this collaboration was inevitable. The two met in their Introduction to Studio Art class in the fall of their first year, and quickly became close. “We’re similar people,” said Agpoon. “We both grew up in Wisconsin, and we’re both really close with our families.” Early in their first year, one of their studio art classmates assumed that the two were “best friends,” even though they had just recently met at Grinnell. “I guess we just hit it off,” said Agpoon.

As fourth years, the 2021- 2022 school year is Agpoon and Doherty’s first back on campus since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their sophomore year. Seated on the floor of a partially set-up Smith Gallery in the days before the show’s opening, Doherty reflected on what it meant to her to be back on campus and sharing her artwork with the community.

“Our show is very intimate and very personal,” she said. Presenting her work in the Smith Gallery provides a tremendously different venue for sharing art, in contrast to virtual showings and critiques during the online school year, which she said was quite “literally [defined by] distance.” When visitors experience “Hand Me Down,” the physical space and work invite closeness and intimacy.

“I really hope that people can come in and feel that warmth,” said Doherty.

“Hand Me Down” is running in the Smith Gallery from March 2 through March 16.

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