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A traveler in Ghana shows what she felt

Smith '12 wins rare honor at Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition

May  09, 2011

(Augustana Photo Bureau/Marla Alvarado Neuerburg)

Augustana junior Veronica Smith’s painting “Accra (Ring Around the Sun),” mixed media on canvas, is the 2011 winner of the People’s Choice Award for the annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition held recently in the Augustana College Art Museum.

“I was absolutely thrilled to be accepted into the exhibition, and beyond thrilled to win the People’s Choice Award,” Smith said.

She is one of only six Augustana students with works juried into the exhibition in the last 27 years; she is one of only three who have received awards. Since 1983, the enrolled students with works juried in were Dan Tredway, Michelle Acuff, Teresa Motley, Marc Nelson, Dana Kau and, now, Veronica Smith.

Smith, from Plano, Ill., is majoring in art, art history and environmental studies.

“The annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition, which is one of the area’s premier juried visual art exhibitions, sets a high standard that challenges even the most professional artist,” said Sherry Maurer, director of the Augustana College Art Museum. “It was quite an accomplishment for Veronica, as a student, to have her entry included. Her painting has a convincing luminosity and enticing color balance.”

Paintings reflect reactions to West Africa

By Veronica Smith ’12

(Editor's note: “Accra (Ring Around the Sun)” was one of a series of five paintings that discuss Smith’s reactions to a term abroad in West Africa and were created to exhibit in her hometown’s public library. She won second place in Augustana’s Eddie Mabry Diversity Award competition with this series of paintings.)

Being immersed in an entirely different culture for an extended period was disorienting, to say the least. As a white American in Ghana, I attracted a lot of attention — everything from small children chasing me down the winding alleys of Accra screaming “Obruni! Obruni! Obruni!” (“white person” or “foreigner” in Twi) to several extremely insistent marriage proposals. Every person I encountered was incredibly interested in me and where I was from and what I was doing in West Africa. Even when this interest served an ulterior motive, such as getting me to buy a souvenir, the interest was genuine.

I learned conversational Twi, learned how to bargain, how to salsa dance, how to weave kente, but most importantly, I learned that people are people. While this may sound like a Yogi Berra quote, what I mean is that the concerns of people are universal. Everyone everywhere loves who they love fiercely, worries whether their government is governing their country fairly, has a favorite food and a favorite song, and has faith in a better world.

As an artist, I tried to be analytically sensitive to the constant stream of visual stimuli that bombarded me from all sides. I was in sponge mode, soaking in all that I encountered. Upon returning home, I needed a way to take all that I had absorbed and place it into the context of my life — something that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do conclusively — and regurgitate it back into the world. This series of paintings is the result of that need. Each painting represents the way I felt in a particular place and time during my journey.

Because these paintings were displayed in the library of my hometown, near the children’s section, I wanted them to be colorful and informative. In the exhibition, I included maps of the countries I had visited as well as informative paragraphs about each of the works. The following is what I included with “Accra (Ring Around the Sun)” in the original exhibition:

The first full day I was in Ghana, there was a ring around the sun.

On a gargantuan tour bus, trundling through streets too narrow, humanity pressing in on all sides — colorful, beautifully tailored cloth and baskets carried on heads, newspapers thrust at transparent bus windows, bags of water in thirsty hands — we gingerly navigated the potholes filled with red dust. The metal roof of our vehicle rendered the sky obsolete, but the large rectangular windows afforded a sufficient view of the streets we traveled. All of the children we passed were fixed in place, school uniforms learning stillness, fingers cupped around wondering eyes, chins tilted towards the sky. Following suit, we clamored to press against the glass, amazement guiding our actions. Our wonder matched their wonder, and suddenly we were wondering together despite the very physical barrier of the bus windows, sharing in a deep sense of awe at the beauty and strangeness of the world around us.