Studio art and communication studies student curates mini solo exhibition in the Oglethorpe museum

Studio art and communication studies major Ilissa McGowin ’25 is the newest Petrel featured in the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art‘s student-focused exhibition series, “Oglethorpe’s Own.” As the featured student, McGowin served as both artist and curator, working closely with museum staff to present her uniquely personal show now on display alongside several professional exhibitions.

The theme of McGowin’s exhibition is “memento mori,” a Latin phrase which means “remember you are mortal.” It is a reminder that death, in its inevitability, is not something to be feared; life should be lived knowing that it will one day end.

Ilissa McGowin hangs art on the wall

Ilissa McGowin ’25 hangs her art for her exhibition

McGowin’s exhibition features seven pieces, each examining themes of life and death. She employs several different mediums, including paint, sketch and even bones.

McGowin’s favorite painting “Dans l’attente” or “Waiting” is an oil self-portrait that imagines herself in the future. A closer look at the painting reveals a book titled “The Power of Myth” — a book she read in one of her Core classes.

“The piece is a representation of inner strength, love of nature, sanctity of life, self-security, and the power of knowledge, all in one,” says McGowin. “It’s one of my most recent pieces and was heavily influenced by both my art history courses and my Core work  as I’ve really enjoyed and learned a lot from those classes.”

One of the key objectives of “Oglethorpe’s Own” is to offer valuable professional development opportunities within the museum field. From conceptualization to execution, students gain practical skills in exhibition preparation, including installation, layout and framing.

“The curation process was fascinating and brought up so many questions I hadn’t considered before, such as height importance and wall spacing when hanging the pieces for an audience,” says McGowin. “Having assistance from our museum staff with all the steps really made me feel confident in my work as an artist.”

This innovative series — started last fall — aims to amplify underrepresented voices while providing students the opportunity to take ownership of an exhibition that tells their unique stories.

“It was really fun to get to see first-hand the processes that go on behind the scenes, and getting to hang my very own pieces in a museum? That’s unbelievable!”

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