Explorations of Portraiture and Identity

Explorations of Portraiture and Identity

This winter, two seniors explored issues of self, gender, sexual orientation, and identity in their exhibitions of photographs and oil paintings. Both students – Justin Li ’20 and Elizabeth Kostina ’20 – worked extensively to develop these themes and while working closely with the Lamont Gallery team and other educational departments on campus, they created these comprehensive and professional exhibitions.

We asked Elizabeth and Justin to share their experiences of this process with us, here is more about these projects and their thoughts.


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Elizabeth Kostina ’20
February 10-28, 2020

This exhibition featured photographic portraits and a film created by Kostina. These portraits were accompanied by statements and stories that the individuals shared with Kostina.

The works were on view in the lobby of the Academy Building, an area where the entire student body had a chance to engage with the exhibition. Kostina also worked with the Academy Library’s archivist to collect and curate additional archival materials with photographs of past Exeter students showing examples of how hairstyles have evolved over the years. These works were on view in the Library Commons.

Kostina worked on this project over a number of months and enlisted the support of various departments and mentors including the Department of Theater & Dance, the Lamont Gallery, the Class of 1945 Library/Archives & Special Collections, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Interview with Elizabeth Kostina:

Lamont Gallery: You enlisted the support of a number of people for this project. Can you tell us about this process?

Elizabeth Kostina: “This project has been vast and inter-disciplinary, which has definitely been a highlight. It’s been a wonderful time watching this project unfurl from the original idea in July, from New York to New Hampshire. I have to say thanks to the Lamont Gallery, OMA, Archives, and the Theatre Department for supporting this project. It’s been a journey. I could not have accomplished any of this without all of their support!  Without the people who took the time to explain how to do the mat cutting for the photographs, who took time out of their weekend to help me with this, who spent so much time with me asking questions and challenging me to think farther than I have ever gone before, to take the time to explain to me little nuances I think most would have skipped over, to helping me hang posters and making sure I double-checked everything! I have been so engaged in this process as a result of that, and I have learned so so so much from doing it. Definitely more than I think I would have gotten out of a class. The one-on-one time has been very highly valued and very beneficial.

And, of course, the individuals who agreed to have me photograph them… To share their portraits and writings with others, to have me film them and have the privilege of hearing their stories, all unique and all threads connected but separate and their own. This project could not have been possible without their courage, their openness, their pride.  It makes me so happy to have someone come up to me and exclaim, in awe, “that’s me!” and I think that’s the very epic nature of photography in a nutshell. There are so many ~things~ which remain unseen, and sometimes it takes someone with a camera, something that can seem cold and hard and distant, to point out the very human and emotional creations of our existence in all of its forms, which is ironic. But also… not?”

Elizabeth Kostina, Hairlines, 2020, Installation view

LG: What are your favorite aspects of the piece?

EK: “The film. There’s so much more I wish I could have kept in.
Specifically, when the cord slides up Sam’s head while it’s being shaved, at the beginning/end of the film. I get shivers every time. Every. Time. It’s so weird. I remember my reaction to being there, the hair’s texture, the sound of the razor, the way the carpet felt? I can’t explain it at all.

It’s a moment that makes me want to stop the film and brush off the hair and yet, not… because who am I to abridge life? To change it? Being allowed to observe these moments feels sacred, unfiltered in the best way.

Just letting it all play out is the best”


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Your Blood + Mine: A Meditation on Identity
Justin Li ‘20
January 23 – February 27, 2020

Justin approached the Lamont Gallery last year with his idea for an exhibition featuring a collection of portraits and self-portraits. Throughout the year, he worked with a team of student curators / Lamont Gallery proctors to build the various elements of the exhibition. These included writing a press release, creating publicity, crafting a layout plan for the pieces, and working as a team with an art installer to create the final exhibition.

Excerpt from the press release written by student curators:

“This exhibition of oil portraits on canvas, explores identity, coming of age, and being a queer youth of color.

Li’s works also highlight the dichotomy between the masculine and feminine, and how he has struggled with it in light of his queer, Asian, and male identities. Li notes: ‘Through my portraiture, I hope to tell nuanced stories about identity that we often overlook. By exploring the complexity of intersectionality, I can illuminate the multiple layers of my own identity.’

The large scale of his works and his delicate balance of realism and abstraction further impresses the vibrant qualities of his paintings upon the viewer. The work in the exhibition also addresses LGBT concerns.”

Justin Li, Your Blood and Mine, 2020, Installation view

Justin Li’s thoughts:

Curating this exhibit was incredibly rewarding. I worked primarily with Ms. O’Neal and the gallery curators (Anne, Katie, and Sarah), though many other people helped tie everything together. I loved designing the layout of the exhibition, as I’m interested in interior design. I also had fun decorating and planning out logistics. I’m grateful for the opportunity to exhibit my work and practice curation in a professional setting.”


Project Advisors: Lamont Gallery and the Exeter Art Department
Student Curators: Anne Chen ‘22, Katie Dowling ‘22, Sarah Kang ‘21
Special thanks to Dale Atkins, Lamont Gallery Attendant for her installation assistance


More information about these exhibitions along with other past student projects can be found on the Students Projects page of our website.


–  Stacey Durand, Lamont Gallery Manager

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