BFA Thesis Exhibition Curatorial Essay by Namita Gupta Wiggers and Lauren Sinner

September 7, 2017

American crafts curator, educator and writer Namita Gupta Wiggers and artist, curator, and educator Lauren Sinner contributed an essay regarding craft and its meaning in today's politcal climate for OCAC's 2016-17 BFA thesis catalog. Click here to see a PDF of the essay as it appeared in the catalog, or read the full text below. 


Historically, the word curate means to caretake. Curating an exhibition of work by an emerging group of artists as they transition from student to the next phase of their lives is less about caretaking and curating than it is about giving them their first experience working with a curator. In this case, students experienced visits from two curators – one established, and one emerging – further extending the project into a learning experience. Moving towards the culmination of their BFA degrees, studios were filled with projects-in-progress, and a limited number of partially completed works. Curation, in such moments, is less about selecting work to exemplify the young artist’s work than about asking questions to help them learn to discuss their work, to explain where they are heading with their projects, and to articulate their installation needs. FULCRUM is a pivotal moment. It is the only time this group of students will exhibit collectively in their careers. There may be various permutations connecting them in future years – but this is a singular moment that merits attention. What the exhibition on view signals is as much about the past as it is about the future. FULCRUM reveals the possibilities of craft.

Evidence of engagement with a wide variety of materials, processes, and tools shows itself with each project; nearly every medium is employed, from paint to clay, plastic to wood, paper to textiles, film and photography. The work is evidence of thinking through a vast range of processes – printmaking to 3D printing and painting, handbuilding to weaving, fabrication to casting, hand raising to machine stitching. But it is in their facility with tools, specifically their ability to demonstrate how any tool is an extension of the body and mind, that this graduating class exemplifies what a craft-based education offers. Whether the work has been created solely by hand, with the aid of hand tools, with the assistance of digital fabrication or all of the above – discussions with each student reveal an aptitude and flexibility that pushes hard against long-standing perceptions of a divide in craft between the hand and technology. The future of craft in the hands of this group of artists may not perpetuate this rift – and this is perhaps their biggest strength as they enter their professional lives in a post-disciplinary and materially sensitive art arena.

As they move out from the close community and idyllic campus of the Oregon College of Art and Craft into the broader world, this set of graduates is equipped to work conceptually and critically as well as materially. Their work connects the personal to the public, and addresses a wide range of themes through craft-based making, including: communication and nostalgia, survival of sexual assault, race, family, the place of women in society, global heritage and materiality through built forms, to narratives that engage personal relationships, spirituality, and refuse, to bringing the outdoors inside our urban environments. Merging material and concept through making - this is what Portland is known for, and the legacy the students take forward.

It has been a pleasure working with the students and their teachers, Ryan Burghard and Leslie Vigeant in particular, to help this group of students pivot from OCAC to beyond. Whether they remain in Portland or move anywhere in the world, their knowledge and ability to transform materials and ideas into physical form tethers them to OCAC, to each other, to a city known for a long history of craft-based making, and between the artists of the past and the future they will bring into being.

~ Namita Gupta Wiggers and Lauren Sinner


NAMITA GUPTA WIGGERS is a writer, curator, and educator based in Portland, OR. She is the Director and Co-Founder of Critical Craft Forum. Wiggers is the Director of a newly launched Master of Arts in Craft Studies at Warren Wilson College, North Carolina. The low residency program focuses on critical and historical craft studies. From 2014-17, Wiggers taught in MFA Applied Craft + Design, co-administered by Oregon College of Art + Craft and Pacific Northwest College of Art, and at Portland State University. From 2004-14, she served as the Director and Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Craft, Portland, OR.

She contributes to online and in-print journals and books, serves as the Exhibition Reviews Editor, The Journal of Modern Craft, and on the Editorial Board of Garland. Recent projects include: Across the Table, Across the Land with Michael Strand for the National Council on Ceramic Education in the Arts; EVERYTHING HAS BEEN MATERIAL FOR SCISSORS TO SHAPE, a textile-focused exhibition at the Wing Luke Museum of Asian American Experience, Seattle; a forthcoming publication with Wiley Blackwell Publishers; and a study of gender and jewelry with Benjamin Lignel. She serves on the Board of Trustees, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and is a former board member of the American Craft Council and The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design.

LAUREN SINNER is an artist, curator, and educator based out of Portland, Oregon and Green Bay, Wisconsin. She is currently the Assistant Editor of Surface Design Journal, and Curator-in-Residence at the MFA Applied Craft + Design Furthermore Gallery. Lauren has exhibited across the US at galleries in Chicago, Savannah, Madison, St. Louis, and Portland.