A pair of attendees exchanged looks of discovery as they balanced on a teeter-totter. Jairo Banuelos’ interactive sculpture at the Irwin Scholars reception on May 25 demonstrated the balancing of self within a Chicanx identity.
Like Banuelos, the other 11 recipients of the annual Irwin Scholarship are dedicated to art with an underlying narrative of identity, politics, myth, daily life and infrastructure, among many other themes.
The William Hyde and Susan Benteen Irwin Scholarship fund was established in 1986, with an endowment check of $10,000.
Students are nominated and chosen by faculty for the prestigious and extremely competitive $2,500 merit scholarship. The award also includes a feature in the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, the Porter College Faculty Gallery and the Sesnon Underground.
The arts faculty community came together for the event, where they shared tear-jerking expressions of love. The UCSC arts department community honored award winners Jairo Banuelos, Haley Belenis, Thomas Fallis, Andrea Furtado, Jesse Huynh, Jordan Krauss, Erick Medel, Sarah Ploenzke, Caetano Santos, Rachel Smith, Luigi Villanueva and Chloe Yantis.
With a highly moving combination of concept and execution with a humanitarian focus, each piece captured onlookers. During the awards ceremony at the Sesnon Gallery, the artists thanked their mentors, loved ones and audience members. Banuelos thanked his peers and parents with a poem in Spanish.
“Gracias por tener fe en mí. Los quiero con todo mi corazón. Thank you for having faith in me. I love you with all my heart,” Banuelos said.
Students arranged their works alongside Sesnon Arts Gallery manager Mark Shunney. Associate professors Dee-Hibbert Jones, Enrique Leal and Norman Locks and staff research associate Bridget Henry were among those thanked onstage by students for pushing them to their full potential.
“We encourage the Irwin Scholars to stay in touch with the Sesnon Gallery and UCSC after graduation,” said Shelby Graham, Sesnon Art gallery director and curator.
“We send the scholars gallery or job opportunities and encourage them to go to graduate school if they are interested,” Graham said. “We stress the importance of networking with other artists and to continue to build a strong creative community.”
Recipient Caetano Santos thanked his mentors and did a roll call of his friends, main supporters and family. Santos is widely known in the arts community and often participates in off-campus art house shows. As his work has evolved from graphic print style, his new pieces demonstrate more than just craftsmanship.
Thematically, Santos’ work deals with loss and memory while exploring a new method he learned from professor Leal — a glass etching made by silk-screening photographs onto glass with asphaltum.
“I was thinking about my aunt and the fragility of memory, of the glass, of people’s lives,” Santos said, referencing his aunt who recently died and meant a great deal to Santos.
Santos is proud to pay homage to what matters to him most –– a family member who contributed to and shaped his bicultural identity, since he has family in both Brazil and California.
“With this piece, you need distance between the glass and the wall in order to document the shadow that it casts,” Santos said. “And that’s sort of this distance between my aunt and me. You have to maintain these relationships and be very active to keep up with your family. They may not be immediately around you, but they help you grow.”
Fourth-year environmental studies student Elise Scheuermann walked past the artwork with a shy smile. She was supporting a friend but became immersed in a sculpture of a sunken boat with small hands reaching out of the ocean. Scheuermann was touched by the closeness of the arts community.
“Some of the people’s stories were very touching with their experiences,” she said. “I thought it was really important how they emphasized how supported they felt within the art department.”
William Ladusaw, interim dean of the arts, spoke on behalf of the faculty and proudly dared attendees to examine each work with intricate detail. He reminded all audience members to walk around with open hearts and immersed eyes.
“What you see around you is a great representation of the quality and character of the arts community in Santa Cruz,” Ladusaw said. “I hope you’ll be provoked to think, [be] appalled maybe.”
Sesnon Gallery hours are Tuesday–Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. and Wednesday until 8 p.m.