Manifest 2022 graduate art exhibit focuses on joy after trauma

By Robin Sluzas, Staff Reporter

Amanda Burris

Kelsey Bogdan began their undergraduate college career at Harvard playing Division I basketball and studying cognitive neuroscience while minoring in women, gender and sexuality studies.

“For me, science is really philosophical,” Bogdan said. “Thinking about how a neuron works is artistic. The line between the sciences and humanities is really blurred.”

In their senior year in 2019, Bogdan took a silkscreen class despite not knowing what silkscreen was, and realized new possibilities could be part of their future.

“It opened my eyes to a whole field of professions and careers I didn’t even know existed until then,” Bogdan said. “I had one of those 20-something moments of ‘I need to reassess the trajectory of my career.’ That’s how I got to where I am now.”

Soon to graduate from the Master of Fine Arts program at Columbia, Bogdan, along with co-creator and fellow Master of Fine Arts student Megan Van Kanegan, will showcase their artwork at their thesis show during Manifest. Their exhibition opens on the Student Center’s fifth floor May 6 and runs through May 20, with the Manifest Masters Showcase taking place May 12 from 6 to 9 p.m.

Van Kanegan and Bogdan’s current show titled “Scar Tissue” in the C33 Gallery on the first floor at 33 E. Ida B. Wells Drive, examines the mental and physical themes in the healing process from trauma.

Bogdan said their current work that will be exhibited during Manifest demonstrates an evolution in her artistic approach. “I began to shift to a place of healing and the cycles of healing and cycles of pain and joy and ultimately it got me to where I am now with my thesis, which is what I’m working on right now … joy and celebration as tools of resistance and reclamation … this sort of radical joy.”

Megan Van Kanegan went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles before transferring to Columbia.

“While I was there [at FIDM] I realized the artistic side of drawing, drafting and creating designs is what I was most interested in,” Van Kanegan said. “I transferred to Columbia and that’s when I decided to do illustration. Then I found that I wanted to be more figurative and a bit more expressive so I switched to fine art as my bachelor’s.”

Van Kanegan said her collection of artwork titled “Lifetime Warranty,” explores themes of joy and trying to figure out how to have fun with yourself again after experiencing trauma. The materials she used in the collection are “found images and paper, paint, marker and pen.”

Meg Duguid, the executive director of the Department of Exhibitions, Performance and Student Spaces, as well as one of Kanegan and Bogdan’s thesis advisors, said both have used their art as a method of healing.

“I think in both [Bogdan’s and Van Kanegan’s] cases, they’ve moved through the processing of trauma to create a space that’s about their joy and the kinds of safe spaces that they want to see around them,” Duguid said. “And really they’ve both flipped this year and are talking about the lens they see themselves through and a way to push the narrative of violence away from them in order to create a world that they would like to exist in.”

Bogdan’s thesis artwork is an installation with a focus on material wonder; what they describe as a “pupil-widening moment of joy.” Bogdan said the materials used are ones that have brought them lifelong joy since they were a kid — rhinestones, light, rainbows, fur, feathers, sequins and glitter.

“Little moments of joy are so important and so critical in themselves,” Bodgan said. “It’s kind of an act of resistance.”