Pennisi presents painting in fascinating light during last ‘Conversations’ series

Maris Lambie, Staff Writer

On Friday, April 29, a diverse crowd of professors and some students gathered in Ketchum Hall for this semester’s final lecture in SUNY Buffalo State’s “Conversations In and Out of the Disciplines” series.

Alice Pennisi, chair and associate professor of art education, delivered the final lecture. While Pennisi has attended other lectures in the series, this was her first time delivering one.

“This is the real deal. Everyone here is engaged and learning. We have a lot of intense discussions,” Pennisi said.

Pennisi’s topic for discussion was “Painting as Research, Activism, and Teaching Tool: Nine American Boys Series.” She opened her discussion with her past by explaining her past as an activist and her experience with painting that lead to her current work.

Pennisi is a self-described “instrumentalist artist,” using arts-based research to spread awareness of social issues. She describes arts-based research as a new methodology in which people create art to be used as a tool to collect information and to share with the community, or when people do in depth research on their topic to be as informed as possible about their subject.

Pennisi focused most of her presentation on her current art-based research project, called “Memorial.” Pennisi’s project features portraits she painted based on images from old photographs.

“I’m not trying to paint my idea of these people. I paint them so someone who might have known them could walk in, look at the paintings and would be able to recognize them,” Pennisi said.

The project so far has three series of portraits. The first series features portraits she painted after looking at old photographs of people who disappeared during Cold War Era Russia. The second series was made up of portraits she painted of prisoners who were executed during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia.

“People were saying Soviet Russia wasn’t all that bad and people were forgetting what happened in Cambodia. I wanted to use these paintings as a teaching tool,” Pennisi said.

The third series in the project was what Pennisi spent most of her lecture discussing. The “Nine American Boys” series features “yearbook” style portraits of the Scottsboro Boys, nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. The

boys were arrested and in prison for years, resulting in civil rights movements and debates over the racial injustice in the court system.

This series in the project features portraits of all nine boys with vibrant, colorful backgrounds, arraigned in a similar style as school yearbooks.

“To me, it has to do with the idea that this is who they are, I was trying to think of them graduating from school and what their lives could have been,” Pennisi said.

The “Nine American Boys” series is still being worked on. Pennisi has some ideas on how she’d like to finish the portraits but is still deciding what she will do.

The lecture was followed by a very interactive Q and A session. Those who attended had a strong interest in Pennisi’s work and had a lot of questions to ask.

“I think everything is still relevant today,” said Rachel Johnson, a staff member of the Writing Help Center.

Johnson had found out about the lecture after seeing a poster advertising it on another professor’s door, and thought the topic of art education sounded interesting.

“It’s interesting how she laid out the paintings like yearbook photos. It really says something about giving someone a future,” Johnson said.

Johnson has attended previous lectures in this series and is interested in attending more in the future.

“I think they are definitely interesting and it’s cool that they are having lectures relevant to our culture,” Johnson said.

A wine and cheese reception followed the question and answer session.

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