Graduating students from The Australian National University (ANU) School of Art and Design are finally able to showcase their works in the first in-person graduating exhibition since the pandemic started.  

With lockdowns and density limitations, the 2021 graduands missed out on making their artistic debut as the exhibition became an online affair.  

However, this month’s exhibition New Alumni further celebrates the achievements of the talented students, with the in-person spread showcasing the works of 30 artists. 

“This exhibition marks a tremendous moment for ANU emerging artists, designers, and curators,” Head of the School of Art and Design Dr Beck Davis said.  

“It is incredibly important that our graduates have this opportunity to hang an exhibition and to make their work publicly available, the impact of the last two years cannot be underestimated.” 

Graduating student Maddie Hepner is one of the artists with work on display at the exhibition. 

She completed her Honours year of a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2021, but working from home posed a series of challenges she said.  

“It was difficult to get in the right headspace and work on my practice from home,” she said.  

“However, I had it a lot easier than some people, as most of the work I was doing was online.”  

Ms Hepner’s work explored the concept of the American dream in today’s United States.  

She investigated online alt-right fringe communities on social media, and utilised forms of artificial intelligence in her work including Twitter bots.  

She created a composition of more than 1,500 images that have formed a video piece, confronting the viewer to question whether this content is shaping American history, or if American history is shaping the content being published. 

When the graduating exhibition at the end of 2021 was moved online, Ms Hepner, along with most of her cohort, was understanding yet disappointed.  

“For the entirety of everyone’s degree, the graduating exhibition is often what people are working towards,” Ms Hepner said.  

“I was upset that the exhibition was going to be online again after 2020, but now having this physical exhibition gives it that silver lining.” 

Saskia Morris with her work Arresting The Echo: Acknowledging Loss In The Disembodied Present. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Her feelings are echoed by fellow Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) graduate Saskia Morris, who was part of the graduating honours cohort of 2021.   

“The final exhibition symbolises the end of a journey for students. It is a huge celebration of all our effort, and it brings connectivity to artists in the local area,” Ms Morris said.  

When her grandmother passed in the height of the pandemic, travel restrictions meant that the family was prevented from collectively gathering and mourning their loss.  

This inspired her work on the capacity of the voice to embody loss, and the gendered implications of using your voice and performing mourning.  

Her final work consisted of three performances which were initially envisioned to be live but switched to a recorded medium when lockdowns hit.   

“The COVID shutdowns forced me to quickly adapt and explore the idea of filming the performance aspects of my work rather than having a live performance,” Ms Morris said.  

“In saying that, I am very glad the in-person exhibition is finally happening, it gives the community the chance to celebrate the next generation of Canberra’s artists.  

“There’s nothing like a live event for bringing people together, especially to celebrate what has been achieved in such a tough year,” Ms Morris said.   

Cathy Zhang installs her work NetPiece. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Head of School Dr Davis encourages all supporters and those new to the arts to visit the exhibition, discover new talent, and buy or commission new work.

The exhibition New Alumni will be running in the School of Art and Design Gallery from Thursday 19 May to Friday 1 July. The public opening will be 5-7pm, Wednesday 18 May.

Top image: ANU graduate Saskia Morris. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Contact the media team

Lauren Pay

Contributing writer

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