Artistic Empowerment

Phuc Pham | New University

Student artists extend their creativity and activism, exhibiting their artwork under the theme of “empowerment.”


ASUCI’s Office of the President launched the first of its newly created Art Lab programs – a  showcase of artwork and music created by UC Irvine students – on Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Student Center Terrace.

The purpose of the Art Lab is to encourage student artists to utilize and share their innovations among their peers to address particular student issues. The theme of the premiere Art Lab last Thursday was empowerment.

The Art Lab was organized into a format similar to a small nighttime art walk. At the far left end of the terrace was a henna booth in addition to an office partition, which displayed a variety of artworks. Set up directly next to the art exhibition was a canopy, under which visitors congregated to freely paint onto a large canvas that displayed the word “empowerment” on it.

The terrace itself was converted into a stage, where student musicians performed for an audience, who sat either on the ground or at the many Student Center tables.

“The inspiration behind the Art Lab [came from] wanting a place where students can express their creativity and engage their fellow peers around issues that pertain to our lives,” said ASUCI President Traci Ishigo, who was present at the event.

When asked how the Art Lab is pertinent to her Office’s goals for the academic year, Ishigo affirmed her intention to create a culture of engagement.

“We are always trying to get student info,”  Ishigo said. “We want to engage students in whatever is going on, [including] campus issues, statewide issues, anything that has to do with campus life. This is one of the ways we’re trying to express that.

“I think that we have a very creative campus, I think we have a very artistic campus, and we think that this can be a way to disseminate information and can be a learning experience, and a place where people can say something.”

Ishigo and her staff members emphasized their vision that the Art Labs would be a communal effort and product.

“[The Art Lab] was always generally open to the public,” said Naaz Mirreghabie, a third-year social ecology major who contributed two artworks to the event. “We want to get every single student involved […] there’s so much talent on this campus, so we should take this opportunity to draw a lot of students [together].”

Third-year international studies major Kristine Angeles, who is one of the curators for the Art Lab, also noted the community aspect when the program was being developed.

“[The idea came from one of the OC art walks],” Angeles said. “It’s basically the same [format] as us, where they introduce music, food and art. Anyone from all around the community can turn in anything, and they have different themes also.

“We wanted to create that [environment] because we feel like UCI is a really creative school and I feel like there’s not enough places for [performers and artists].”

By being so open to the UCI community, the Art Lab received the efforts of diverse individuals who offered numerous perspectives on what it means to be empowered.

“This Art Lab theme is empowerment […] We want to make sure that our students feel empowered about themselves and the university. I think that a lot of different artists did different takes on it,” Ishigo said.


While a number of the artworks addressed the political nature of empowerment, others approached the theme with a different context.

For example, alumnus Larry Quach contributed a Photoshop piece which featured an anteater in battle gear within a “Starcraft”-inspired environment.

Pop culture references were found in some, though it was clear that each artwork had a special meaning to its maker.

“We chose empowerment because it’s really general,”  Angeles said. “We want students to feel like they could say what they want to say and feel through artworks.

“People interpret empowerment as protests, yelling [and such], and I think it’s important for people to know that there’s other ways to empower yourself, and all these [artists] we have today were able to show that, and we’re proud about it.”

One of the biggest goals of the Art Lab is to eventually advocate for mural spaces on campus, in which students can feel as though they are a bigger part of the university.

“[We want] a campus where students can put whatever they want up [on the mural]. It’ll feel much more personal, and I want students to have a place of their own,” Angeles said.

“Whenever someone looks at a mural, they get a taste of what that place is about. Someone who goes on the UCI campus and sees a mural will know what UCI is about, what the students are about,” she said.

Angeles imagined such a mural to be similar to the banner under the canopy at the Art Lab, where students could contribute and leave their mark on it.

“I think that everyone should have a chance to utilize it … it should be something that everyone could contribute to,” she said.

The Art Lab is expected to be held twice a quarter, and plans are already underway for the next one, which is scheduled for Nov. 8.

The theme for that Art Lab is still in consideration, though students are encouraged to sign up if they are interested in submitting artworks or performing music.

“I want students to know that there’s always a place for them to utilize and show their strength, and say what they want to say,” Angeles said.