Maplewood student exhibits gritty photos at SHU’s Walsh

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SOUTH ORANGE / MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Some of the brightest stars in Seton Hall University’s arts program have an opportunity to shine in the Walsh Gallery’s all-student art exhibition, “Vividly Obscure,” which opened April 4; pieces were selected by a panel of professional artists for inclusion in the exhibit, and one local student received special recognition for her work.

Ashley Wilson, a Maplewood resident and Columbia High School graduate, won first place in the photography category for her thoughtful black-and-white photo “Street Dreams 4,” which was part of a series capturing the plight of the homeless population in New York City.

The show will be on display in the gallery until May 6, and features photography, fine art, graphic design and media. Students were permitted to submit up to five pieces of work per category for consideration. A panel of professional artists then came to SHU to judge the pieces, taking into account their artistic merit and conceptualization.

“The sole purpose of the exhibit is to showcase the talented students and show the rest of the community what they’ve learned,” Walsh Gallery Director Jeanne Brasile said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “We also wanted to show the rest of the community what kind of talent we foster here.

“We wanted to host this at the gallery very specifically for the students to have a holistic experience,” she continued. “This exhibit gives them a chance to not only create artwork, but also to have the recognition from not only their peers or faculty but also a much broader audience that comes in to see the work.”

Brasile also said that the all-student show is a chance for students to be involved with the behind-the-scenes work that comes with putting together an art exhibit.

“The Walsh Gallery has been hosting this exhibit for the past six years, and it’s nice, too, because the students are involved with branding and maintaining the database of artists selected and the administration of the exhibit,” she said. “Students from other programs assist on the back end with installation tasks, such as hanging the lighting and labeling the artwork. Students studying art history and museum studies assisted with greeting people. It’s always a larger group of students besides those submitting work that come together to support the whole show.”

Wilson is one of those students who benefited from the community effort put forth to produce the exhibit. She is a junior art, design and interactive media major with a minor in broadcasting, and this was her first time submitting work and having it displayed in an exhibit.

“I went to Union Square Park in New York City for the photos, and they’re part of a bigger project called ‘Existence,’” Wilson said in a recent phone interview with the News-Record. “I’m really into philanthropy and bringing attention to homelessness and poverty. I want my work to have people put down their phones and pay attention to what’s going on around them.”

As a work-study student in the university’s office of public relations and marketing, Wilson has had a unique opportunity during the school year to develop her talents while putting them to practical use for SHU’s marketing efforts.

In fact, Wilson credits the work she does in her work-study position with giving her the boost of confidence she needed to submit her work for consideration in the exhibit.

“Working in the PR department, they have given me the opportunity to harness my skills and I had the whole team behind me kind of pushing me the whole way,” she said. ”It was my first time even submitting. Because of the inspiration and support that I received here, after this I will be submitting more work to other exhibits.”

As a transfer from Essex County College, Wilson said that she is also appreciative of professors’ dedication in SHU’s arts program.

“I definitely believe Seton Hall is a hidden gem as far as art is concerned, I didn’t expect to come here and to be thrown into a culture of art,” she said. “All of our professors are very into their work, and they extend their passion to us. All of my classes, even the non-art-specific ones, kind of help me to figure out how to be better with business and marketing with all of the merging of classes.”

Elyse Carter, who works in administration in the PR office, is also appreciative of the passion that professors instill in the students.

Carter supervises Wilson in her work-study role, and recalled that when Wilson first mentioned wanting to submit photography for the exhibit, she had a very strategic goal in mind.

“When she first told me about it, she said she wanted to go into New York City and photograph homeless people; I thought it was a fabulous idea. She knew where she wanted to be and she had a clear plan in her mind about what she wanted to convey,” Carter said in a recent phone interview. “I saw the images a couple of days later and they were such moving and beautiful portraits. I think Ashley has a real gift and looks at things with fresh eyes but also felt a real commitment to those in need.

“The thing that impressed me after was how engaged she was with each of these people and they weren’t just anonymous homeless people, she took the time to find out their backgrounds and how long they had been in their present circumstances,” Carter continued. “And from the creative aspect, I loved the composition, the light and the way she drew out the people, and they weren’t just random subject matter to her. She’s very smart and incredibly conscientious of what’s going on in the world.”

So where would Wilson like to focus her energies in the future?

“I would love to be able to do bigger exhibits and be able to help those in need,” she said. “I would love to work for National Geographic and travel out of the country and see how they deal with social injustice and how I can show other people what the experience is like. When you take a photograph you’re capturing a moment in the life of someone else.”

The Walsh Gallery is located on Seton Hall University’s South Orange campus at 400 South Orange Ave. in South Orange. The “Vividly Obscure” exhibition runs through May 6; the Walsh Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.