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Kerckhoff Art Gallery explores perceptions of beauty

Painted mannequins and digital human figures will be featured in Kerckhoff Art Gallery throughout this week as part of “A Comfortable Skin,” a new exhibition by artist Kristine Schomaker.

Neil Bedi/Daily Bruin senior staff

By Casey Kovarik

Feb. 24, 2014 12:12 a.m.

Faceless and expressionless mannequins with colorful stripes of paint streaking across their bodies stand in front of the back wall in Kerckhoff Art Gallery.

The artist, Kristine Schomaker, stands just a little above five feet, with buzzed hair, cat-eye glasses and a quirky smile. Schomaker uses her artwork to express and promote less conventional types of beauty not often seen in popular media.

An exhibition of Schomaker’s work, called “A Comfortable Skin,” opened last Monday at the Kerckhoff Art Gallery. The showcase is presented by UCLA’s Cultural Affairs Commission and the Student Wellness Commission as part of the Wellness Commission’s “I Love My Body Week.”

The exhibition features digital and physical artwork that incorporates three-dimensional human figures Schomaker calls avatars and will remain in Kerckhoff until the end of February.

Although Schomaker has primarily worked on multimedia art, she now also works in the physical world with her avatars, creating mannequins that she pours paint over to create colorful, busy designs.

She creates her digital avatars on a program called Second Life, a virtual canvas made for artists to design three-dimensional art, and her physical avatars with mannequins and paint.

While studying art history, Schomaker created Gracie, her personal avatar, a supermodel-looking figure.

I created Gracie as my ideal self: tall, blonde, thin, can wear heels 24/7,” Schomaker said. “When I brought it to my professor she asked me to think about why I had created her in that way, which got me thinking about my personal body image.”

Through her art, and specifically Gracie, Schomaker said she has realized that she doesn’t need to be an ideal looking avatar because she is human.

“I buzzed my hair in a live performance because I don’t need to have long hair to be beautiful,” Shomaker said. “Why can’t I just be a woman who wants to have buzzed hair? I don’t need to look a certain way to be beautiful.”

Schomaker said the transition from digital avatars to physical ones started with a Facebook picture.

After posting Gracie as her profile picture, Schomaker was contacted by someone interested in purchasing her image, thinking it was a physical piece of art.

Straight away, she ordered five mannequins from Amazon and starting working.

The work displayed in Kerckhoff includes four mannequins, prints of her avatars created on Second Life and a projection of her digital avatars on a screen.

The digital avatars range in shape from that of Schomaker’s body to the ideal mannequin’s form.

“The message of all of my art is to be free to be yourself, to not be afraid to be who you are,Schomaker said. I understand the difficulty of being a young woman and being confident with your body.”

Schomaker is open and willing to talk about her struggles with an eating disorder and how she was not happy with body image for many years.

“I think because of the peer pressure surrounding being a college student, and trying to live up to expectations, this work is relevant to our campus,” she said.

Hannah Leiber, the curator of the exhibition and a member of the Cultural Affairs Commission, said she chose Schomaker’s work for this very reason.

“This message is especially relevant to college students because we can feel insecure about our bodies at times,” she said. “Hopefully through this exhibition people realize that there’s more to a person than the way they look.”

Leiber, a second-year statistics student, said she found out about Schomaker’s art at The Brewery, an art walk that takes place every fall and spring in Los Angeles.

She chose Schomaker’s art over all of the other art at The Brewery because it was abstract and also involved the human form, which tied in with “I Love My Body Week.”

Schomaker said that she now wants to start creating molds from her body and other women’s bodies because she wants this to be part of her message about every body being beautiful.

She currently has four different avatars in Second Life of varying body styles ranging from hers to the ideal model advocating the same theme.

“I want to spread the message of loving yourself further and helping others shed the restraints placed on them by society about their physical appearance,” she said.

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Casey Kovarik
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