More than 20 University of Michigan student artists displayed and sold art of various mediums in the Michigan Union’s Wolverine Room Saturday afternoon as part of What the F Magazine’s fourth bi-annual art fair. The fair aims to uplift the work of female and Queer students as well as students of Color and focuses on the role creative expression plays in advancing intersectional feminism.
LSA junior Ava Berkwits, an artist selling pieces at the fair, told The Michigan Daily at the event that she believes the art fair’s mission to highlight artwork from historically marginalized groups is especially important, given how museums and other art spaces tend to exhibit a comparatively high number of pieces by educated, male, white artists.
“In museums and more canonical curated art spaces, those are the people who are highlighted,” Berkwits said. “And there’s just richness in the Queer experience and the BIPOC experience and (women’s experience), and so it creates really fantastic art.”
Berkwits displayed a mix of abstract and photo pieces at the fair. She said much of her work was created to help her reflect on her own experiences and her perspective on the world around her.
“Art is kind of a way that I process the world,” Berkwits said. “It’s both a refuge from the things that feel stressful in the world but also just a way of processing them. And I think I have a harness on visual expression that I don’t yet have with words.”
Art & Design sophomore Yuri Cho also said she believes the fair effectively created a space for traditionally underrepresented artists to showcase their work to the campus community.
“Men tend to be highlighted over women,” Cho said. “And it’s not to say that men are any less valuable than women, Queer, BIPOC artists. It’s more or less that women and that group don’t have the opportunity to show their art as much.”
LSA junior Eden Yu told The Daily he attended the event because it makes a point of promoting the work of artists who may not usually be given a platform. Yu said they believe the fair serves to challenge art and art history education that focuses on white, male artists by allowing students to expand the art they are exposed to include work from creators across a variety of backgrounds.
“Systematically, art and art history has always been focused on white, presumably cishet male artists, even if their art was either supported by or made possible by a woman in their life,” Yu said. “So I think it’s really important that we actually pay attention to the people who have been, so far, silenced by history.”
LSA junior Ella Larsen said the fair offered a space for her to connect with other artists and activists on campus.
“I was interested in feminist spaces on campus, and also, I had met a bunch of random people throughout the years who are involved with the art fair,” Larsen said. “I’ve gone to the art fair, and it just felt like a really great feeling for (an) activist or social and artistic scene.”
School of Information junior Robin Jiao said he believes the fair is an important opportunity for student artists to showcase their work.
“I feel like there’s a lot of stuff for people (that) are already established, like the Ann Arbor art fair or local events,” Jiao said. “There’s only a few of these art fair-type things for students, and a lot of them aren’t well-advertised like this.”
Amelia Staggs, co-director of education and outreach for What the F, told The Daily that What the F works to include a variety of perspectives and types of art in the fair.
“Anyone can bring any idea to the table or anything they want to talk about,” Staggs said. “And we’ll work with it and see what we can do with it. It’s a super accepting community.”