Victors of VADS break down artwork

VADS winners include senior Jessica Tifase for “The Harvest,” Amberlee Gandy and Grace Anderson for “Funeral For One” and Grant Burress for “THROUGH THE FIRE.”

The Visual Art and Design Showcase award ceremony was held virtually on March 25. The winners were announced by Jim Spain, vice provost of Undergraduate Studies, and community sponsors such as the Columbia Art League and Ragtag Cinema. Artist and guest juror Yatika Starr Fields made a special appearance at the end of the ceremony to thank the student artists for submitting their work.

“All of the artists [should] congratulate yourselves because this is all of the work and determination that you have put into it,” Fields said during the ceremony. “Now you are seeing the beauty and the fruition of that.”

Jessica Tifase, Grand Prize in Artistic Expression and Sager Braudis Scholarship & Exhibition Award for ‘The Harvest’

Senior Jessica Tifase’s photography series, “The Harvest,” takes an intimate look at Black men in spaces the media has stereotypically exploited. Tifase shows her friends in comfortable settings: laying on a couch, applying makeup and shaving.

“I make work about people of color, Black people specifically, because I’ve often felt we’ve been misrepresented in the media or underrepresented,” Tifase said. “The work that I make is very intimate and it’s disrupting narratives.”

The Houston native used a 4-by-5 large format camera to capture the shots on black and white film. Tifase said the heavy camera came with a learning curve.

“It slowed me down, in comparison to digital (where) you can see the picture as soon as you take it,” Tifase said. “But with film, you have to develop it, scan it. A lot of these were done in one take, so I had to really be intentional with every shot.”

Tifase said it was important for her to show Black men in an intimate setting for her photo series. While Tifase uses her art to make statements on the unjust treatment of Black men at the hands of the police, she also shows Black men performing everyday tasks. Oftentimes, Black men are portrayed negatively in the news or on social media, Tifase said.

“I have pictures that are very significant about what’s happening, but I also don’t think that’s how Black people should be represented all of the time,” Tifase said. “We are not our trauma or sadness. I think that’s what is really nice about some of my other pictures. There is a softness and it’s not pain, it’s not sadness, it’s not trauma.”

Tifase’s photo series will be on display at the Sager Braudis Art Gallery soon. After graduating from MU, Tifase is planning to attend graduate school at Virginia Commonwealth University to continue her photography and film education.

“I’m going to a location that is really rich in history,” Tifase said. “The work that I am going to be making there will be just as important as it has been here. I’m really excited about that.”

Tifase’s advice to fellow disruptive storytellers is to work hard and persevere — you are untouchable.

“I’m graduating proud of everything that I’ve done, and even proud of my losses,” Tifase said. “If you put in the work and make an effort, you will see the fruits of your labor sooner than you think.”

Amberlee Gandy and Grace Anderson, Grand Prize in Applied Design for ‘Funeral for One’

Senior Amberlee Gandy and sophomore Grace Anderson said they had no idea the impact their floral arrangement would have on jurors and the public. Their piece consisted of a makeshift COVID-19 patient constructed of dead and decaying flowers. The patient is laying on a hospital bed, surrounded by bright and healthy floral arrangements.

Both Gandy and Anderson have family members impacted by the pandemic — as frontline healthcare workers and those who contracted the virus. The two said they wanted to create an arrangement that reflected the feeling of helplessness others may feel when a loved one battles COVID-19.

“We had been hearing a lot of stories of family members who (for example) their husband was fine one day, then the next he went into the ER with COVID and passed away, so they just never saw him,” Anderson said. “Those stories are heartbreaking, so we wanted to find a way to capture that feeling and anxiety.”

Not only has the pandemic impacted their personal lives, but it changed the way the pair had to make the piece, Anderson said. Finding the right materials proved challenging, the partners said.

“With COVID impacting the floral industry, we had a really tricky time getting specific things, and getting them in how you would like them to be — blooms being really nice and open (for example),” Anderson said.

Gandy and Anderson said symbolism was important as they worked on the project. Through their research, they found that yellow is used frequently in hospitals to help patients feel better and heal faster. Dried materials that have dark and earthy tones were used on the figure to represent the patient passing away.

While many artists chose to make their project on the topic of the pandemic for VADS, Gandy and Anderson were the only participants to use fresh materials.

“I love that floral design is being involved in Visual Art and Design because it is so vastly different from all of the other art pieces there,” Gandy said. “It’s really hard to compare floral design to photography or anything like that.”

The two will recreate their project on a smaller scale for display at the Columbia Art League. Their piece will be displayed from April 18-24. Both Gandy and Anderson said they are looking forward to pursuing more floral projects in the future.

“It was the first thing that we had done entirely together and on our own,” Gandy said. “It was really unique and we were very proud of ourselves at the end of the day.”

Grant Burress, Award of Merit in Applied Design for ‘THROUGH THE FIRE’

Since he was young, Grant Burress said he has envisioned an animated world for his beloved pet rabbit Cappuccino, better known as Cappy. Now, in his senior year at MU, Burress is able to turn his dreams into a reality.

Burress’ submission for VADS is a colorful music video set to a remixed version of “A House Is Not a Home” by Luther Vandross and “Through the Fire” by Chaka Khan. The video follows Cappy the rabbit as he professes his love to Cali the rabbit. Burress said he used Adobe After Effects to achieve a bright and upbeat music video that will stick in the listener’s head for hours afterward.

Burress created Cappy in 2010 and Cali a few years later. The two characters followed Burress from middle school all the way to college. They were always in the back of his mind when coming up with project ideas.

“For my capstone, I knew this would be the time to finally manifest an imagination that I thought of years ago,” Burress said. “It feels surreal sometimes seeing these characters move so much. (Through) the years, I’ve just been drawing and doodling them — they were just stationary.”

While working toward his digital storytelling major at MU, Burress said he learned how to bring Cappy and Cali to life. One aspect that Burress said he focused on was making his characters memorable for potential viewers or investors.

“I learned through different classes that you want to make a character that people will recognize if it was completely shadowed,” Burress said. “With Cappy’s design, he could be worked into a lot of different merchandise like t-shirts and sweatshirts.”

Coming off his runner-up win at VADS, Burress said he is already thinking of different ways he can introduce Cappy to a wider audience. Burress is currently in the process of making Cappy stickers and t-shirts.

“I’ve always wanted to make this cartoon universe that is similar to Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse and Disney — all of those kinds of franchises that are more recognizable because of their nostalgia and character designs,” Burress said.

After graduation, Burress said he plans to take Hollywood by storm. He has already applied for internships at Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Disney with the goal to put Cappy on the map. As far as long-term goals, Burress said he hopes that Cappy will become a legacy at MU.

“A big goal of mine would be to have a ‘Cappy’s’ in the Student Center instead of Mort’s,” Burress said. “Total respect to Beetle Bailey, but I feel like it’s not as recognizable anymore.”

For any burgeoning artist that doubts their talents, Burress encourages them to keep making what they love.

“Everyone has a talent and their own vision,” Burress said. “If someone else doesn’t see it, they’re not you so you definitely have to ride with your passion and be your number one supporter.”

People’s Choice Award

Members of the community can vote on their favorite VADS submission until April 20. The winner will be announced at the closing ceremony of Undergraduate Research Week on April 23 and receive a $100 prize to go toward professional development.

Edited by Sophie Chappell |

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