Recent alum Lexie Iglesia ‘21 clowned around in their return to campus. The French and visual studies interdisciplinary major opened an exhibition in VCAM’s Upper Create Space on Oct. 21, which will be on view until Nov. 18. Titled What I’ve Become, the exhibition is an extension of their work as a 2021 Summer Doculab fellow. What I’ve Become was born from Iglesia’s self-reflections during their strenuous final semesters of college.
“What I’ve Become is the accumulation of many, many jokes exchanged between me and my friends at the end of our senior year of college,” said Iglesia. “Generally, these jokes were nihilistic and a bit self-deprecating, but overall a much-needed pleasure to have while partaking in rigorous thesis-writing during a pandemic. The jokes were a pleasurable way to resist the structures that demand so much of us and not feel shame in the sadness of living in it.”
When you enter the gallery you see greyscale photos of Iglesia and Alice Hu ‘21, another 2021 Doculab fellow, posing in clown costumes hanging from the ceiling. On the back of the photographs are mirrors. On the back wall of the Create Space is a screening of Iglesia’s Doculab film, also titled What I’ve Become. The film shows Iglesia, dressed as a clown, welcoming Hu into a new space, handing Hu a box of clown gear, and inviting them to a clown photoshoot. There are more photographs of Iglesia and Hu in the process of applying clown makeup on the sidewalls.
“All of the photographs came first,” said Iglesia. “I wanted to recreate the meme, ‘Putting on Clown Makeup,’ and record my attempt to put on white face makeup in real time, an action that actually took me quite some time. Interestingly, the sequence of seven photographs, which I named ‘Circulation,’ makes it seem like it was easy to apply a full face of white makeup on tan skin. I then asked my friend and artist Alice to do the same thing and re-enact my images for the piece ‘Imitation.’”
The exhibition’s clown theme was inspired by the popularity of the American clown figure on the internet. “The work plays off of the ever-shifting and visual culture of the American clown figure in memes and social media,” said Iglesia. “It was important for me to carry this knowledge into the DocuLab fellowship as I was thinking of ideas for my final project on performance because I want to remember where I am from (and the importance of that) while I continue to enter and perform in more and more spaces of art.”
While working on this project together, Iglesia and Hu bonded over the complexities of their families’ histories and politics. “We both long for community as the institutions we traversed never acknowledged the pressures and stakes in being Asian-American artists [and] students,” said Iglesia. “Through our work together and individually, Alice and I reject the American typecasting of people of Asian descent as ‘model minorities.’”
Students who attended the exhibition opening were fascinated by the clown theme. Many were intrigued by the box of clown gear on the floor in the front of the exhibition, the same box as the one in Iglesia’s film. “After I watched the film, it gave me a feeling of discomfort, but I was also intrigued. I noticed the piece of paper in the little lump of clown stuff that said ‘for you,’ and I interpreted it as the idea that there’s a clown in all of us,” said Aby Isakov ‘24. “And then I turned around and saw the mirrors on the hanging panels and I thought that the exhibition was about self-reflection.”
The box of clown gear contains the Haverford logo on it, which Iglesia says is an intentional choice to encapsulate the experience of pressure into assimilation and professionalization in institutional spaces.
“Although it was the catalyst for the film, I think the box is an “easter egg” for the folks who know the in’s and out’s of an institution like Haverford because I don’t think it’s as eye-catching to non-Haverford folk,” they said. “But the choice was deliberate. It’s a nod to the strike led by Black students last year and an acknowledgement to the history of Haverford being on stolen land from the Lenape people. The objective of the film is not only to critique the way in which institutional structure racializes Asian-Americans and upholds the model minority myth, but also a call for us, Asian-Americans, to continually recognize that.”
Iglesia’s film is one of eight films created by this year’s Doculab team. Other filmmakers from the team include Hu, Liz Burke BMC ‘23, Assistant Professor of Visual Studies John Muse, Sofia Mondragón BMC ‘22, Bilge Nur Yılmaz ‘21, and Khaula Malik, a professional filmmaker who assisted the team. While all unique in perspective, all of the films connected to this year’s theme of performance art.
“We were all grappling with the same filmic and theoretical questions in the classroom together and would each take from what we were learning in the workshops to advance and complicate our approaches performance and filmmaking,” said Burke. “We were also developing the films on a similar timetable and would meet every other week for critiques, where we would view and ask questions about each other’s work. I was greatly inspired by early cuts of Alice’s film ‘guāng.’”
What I’ve Become gave Iglesia the opportunity to reflect on the “performances” they have put on in their life. “For me, this year’s DocuLab amplified the ways in which I consequently and repeatedly perform actions and reactions for, with, and against the camera,” they said. “What I’ve Become utilizes the confrontation between the camera and my embodiment of intergenerational trauma to unveil contradictions in belonging. The strategies I learned from many artists and thinkers this past summer helped me synthesize a lot of the work I have done throughout my undergraduate years, which allowed me to make this project.”
Iglesia’s ability to create an immersive exhibition came as no surprise to Burke. “I have been inspired by Lexie’s ambition since I first met them,” she said. “Their extensive artmaking and research experience has encouraged me to think bigger with my work and to bravely defy the ways institutions impose limits on artistic work and its presentation. It was amazing to watch their project be realized in the gallery space.”
Henry Morales, the new Hurford Center post-bac fellow, helped Iglesia curate the exhibition. He was impressed with the ways the show interacts with the viewer. “Lexie really plays with the idea of making the viewer feel as if they have to become a clown or at least think of it for a moment within the space,” said Morales. “What I found most interesting about the show was the way they fused her personal interests in photography and new elements they learned in Doculab to create such an interesting and unique critique about their own identity.”
Iglesia is appreciative of the immense support they received working on What I’ve Become. “This work could not be completed without the help of my collaborators,” they said. “I want to thank Liz Burke, Matthew Callinan, Julia Coletti, Caleb Conner, Savan DePaul aka Ishtar Sr., John DeStefano, Vicky Funari, Alexis Hurley, Khaula Malik, Donna Mitchell, Sofia Mondragón, Henry Morales, John Muse, Oludare Oredipe, Federico Perelmuter, Lou Silverblank, James Weissinger, Liv Wong, Charles Woodard, Keith Yahrling, Bilge Nur Yılmaz, the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, and the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for Arts & Humanities for helping me with this work.”
Next year’s iteration of Doculab, led by Emily Hong, assistant professor of anthropology and visual studies, will be a collaboration with the Asian American Documentary Network (A-Doc). Students will help plan and produce documentary projects that focus on Asian American social justice. Students are invited to apply to be one of the upcoming summer’s fellows by Nov. 12.
“I would absolutely recommend any interested students to apply for DocuLab 2022!” said Burke. “As a young artist, it was very gratifying for me to have my artmaking supported financially, through other institutional support, and mentorship in a way that I’ve never experienced before.”