2019 Student Art Award Winners: Erin Genia and Gary Zhexi Zhang

Erin Genia, After Powhatan’s Robe. Courtesy of Erin Genia.

The Arts at MIT annually award outstanding student artists. This year, ACT second year students Erin Genia (Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate) and Gary Zhexi Zhang are recipients of the Schnitzer Prize and Wiesner Student Art Award, respectively.

About the Schnitzer Prize:

Every artist’s body of work represents their creative vision and artistic evolution. For younger artists, a portfolio also points to their future potential.

Winners of the 2019 Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize in the Visual Arts represent four outstanding student portfolios. Each of these artists contributes to a vital art ecosystem that animates MIT’s culture.

Established in 1996, the Harold and Arlene Schnitzer Prize is awarded each year to current MIT undergraduate and graduate students for excellence in a body of work. Students submit their artistic portfolios for consideration. The first place winner receives $5,000, second place $3,000, third place $2,000, and honorable mention $1,000. Their work is presented in an exhibition in the Wiesner Student Art Gallery in June.

The 2019 Schnitzer Prize winners attest to the broad range of visual artistic expression that thrives at MIT. Awardees work in virtual reality, art and cultural education, indigenous art, and painting.

Second Prize: Erin Genia, Second Year Graduate Student in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT)

Erin Genia’s work explores the confluence of indigenous culture, sound, and memory. A veteran indigenous artist, Genia is a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, part of the Sioux nation based in South Dakota. She introduced sound into her work during her two years at the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT).  “I was looking for a new way to express indigenous concepts and philosophy. I was drawn to sound because it is non-linear, which is often the way we tell our story,” says Genia.

Her work titled “Acoustic Tipi” features a seven-foot mahogany tipi decorated with indigenous images and equipped with four cow-hide drums. The piece was featured at last year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, and will remain on display at this summer’s Venice Biennale. Genia has also produced “Sound Vessels,” an installation of clay vessels that transmit a variety of sounds, including a heartbeat, boiling liquid mud, and Dakota phrases, via a multi-channel amplifier.

“Being at MIT exposed me to so many technologies I hadn’t had access to,” says the artist, who hopes to create a gallery space for indigenous art after she graduates.

Reception for the Schnitzer Prize Exhibition
Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Wiesner Student Art Gallery, MIT Building W20, 2nd Floor Opening
Free and open to the public

Full article by Arts at MIT here.


About the Wiesner Student Art Awards:

Students make myriad contributions at MIT through art. Some set a new level of excellence  with their superior talent, dedicated work ethic, and exemplary performance skills. Others venture into unexplored currents where art, technology, and science swirl. Still others form new spaces for creativity that enrich campus life.

These outstanding achievements in and contributions to the arts at MIT are recognized in the annual Laya and Jerome B. Wiesner Student Art Awards. Established in 1979, the award honors undergraduate and graduate students who are nominated by members of the faculty and staff. Prize winners each receive $2,000.

This year’s winners span a wide creative spectrum, including digital tool maker, editor of an on-campus fashion magazine, artist and arts activist, and vocalist. While operating in diverse disciplines, each student uses their art to create connections—between audience and performer, surface and substance, and policy and practice. These 2019 Wiesner Award recipients enrich the MIT experience, and inspire others to apply their gifts and skills.

Gary Zhexi Zhang, Second Year Graduate Student, Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT)

“I didn’t want to go back to an art school environment for grad school,” says Gary Zhexi Zhang, who studied painting and printmaking at Scotland’s Glasgow School of Arts. “Instead I came to MIT to explore thousands of other resources. And because I wanted to be somewhere where I felt a little out of place.”

Zhang has made the MIT campus his own. He founded Mutual Pictures, a monthly dinner series where filmmakers screen their works and receive critiques. He is also co-founder and the driving force behind The February School, a student-run peer-to-peer learning and discussion space open to the MIT community and the public in the Stratton Student Center. The February School has explored a range of topics, including gardening, malware, and reparations for slavery in South Africa.

“There is an idea that MIT is frequently about production, about making things,” says Zhang. “Our idea was to create a space that was more contemplative, critical, and reflective.”

Full article by Arts at MIT here.