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The 2024 Recipients of the the Hamblet Award and Merit Award annoucement

Posted by on Thursday, April 18, 2024 in News, Spotlight.

The Department of Art at Vanderbilt University is proud to annouce the recipients of the 2024 the Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award and Merit Award.

Every spring, the senior art majors finish their senior year experience installing their thesis exhibitions in Space 204, the contemporary art gallery located in the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Arts Center, the home of the Vanderbilt University Department of Art.

The students who mount their exhibitons are given the opportunity to compete for two grants made possible by the Margaret Stonewall Woodridge Hamblet Endowment. This competition is a three part process – a written proposal, an exhibition of works, and interviews with a panel of jurors.

The 2024 Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award Recipient ($25,000)

Chidinma Onukwuru


Remasking taps into the rich history of Igbo culture, focusing on the traditions of masquerade designs from my ancestral homeland in southeastern Nigeria. Embracing the handmade costuming of the tradition, I intertwine sacred elements of masquerade silhouettes and tactile resources with contemporary storytelling. Key to exploring this tradition is the feminist lens through which I attempt to understand and portray it to an American audience.

I utilize video, sound, ceramics, and fashion-inspired sculpture to reclaim the portrayal of feminine beauty that traditional masquerade displays have sought to do. In the video performance, I adorn myself as the unorthodox female dancer in a handcrafted silhouette, occupying a traditionally male-dominated space. My silhouette transforms the standard costumes I reference, by accentuating my figure and emphasizing the breasts and hips passed down generationally.

By transforming this ritualistic and festive space, I contemporize ancient practices and beliefs. Below the masquerade sculpture, a field of red dirt transports the viewer to the roads and colors of my family’s village. Buried within the dirt are ceramic masks that reference traditional Igbo styles and the spirits that masquerade dancers personify.

While the video projections evoke the divinity of dance, the accompanying dynamic sound incorporates traditional drumming arrangements and vocals. Elements of these sounds are from my collaborations with the local education and ensemble group, AfricaNashville, and resident artists Ibrahim Dioubate and Windship Boyd.

This project is a celebration and preservation of tradition, intertwining personal discovery with cultural reconnection for a Nigerian-American artist. It confronts the patriarchal expressions embedded within these traditions, striving to inclusively engage both the performer and the audience in a captivating celebration and consideration of Igbo heritage.

About the Artist:

Chidinma Onukwuru is a Nigerian-American artist from Philadelphia, PA, U.S. The mixed-media artist uses an interdisciplinary approach to portray the complexities of her identities and of communities she engages with. Her research and academic pursuits in sociology often inspire the conceptual elements of her work, while she engages in a variety of materials to emphasize those significant themes. Onukwuru’s work focuses on the intersections of spirituality, feminism, and Blackness as she explores the self and the community. Her recent works address matters of the African diaspora, combining traditions with the contemporary, particularly emphasizing on materiality and its significance in storytelling and ritual formation. Onukwuru works in video, photography, collage, ceramics, sculpture, fashion design, and installation.

The 2024 Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Merit Award Recipient ($10,000)

Kiko Gio (Xuanyi Zhao)
奶奶,那我是啷个 (Grandma, Then Who Am I)


奶奶,那我是啷个 Grandma, Then Who Am intertwines personal reflection with the collective experiences of contemporary rural elderly Chinese women. Inspired by Louise Bourgeois’ Maman, the piece employ spiders as metaphors for my grandmother, symbolizing her dual role as a tailor in both her professional and personal life. As a woman form a low income family born in 1930’s China, she was born deprived of educational opportunity. She spends her whole life a small town, weaves for her husband and breeds her offspring. Meanwhile, I’m living on the other hemisphere of the globe, gradually overthrow motherhood, this piece highlights the unique nature of inter-generational relationships, characterized by pure care giving, devoid of educational and control intentions. It is exactly because of this pure support from grandmother stirs a feeling of guilt and embarrassment as my lifestyle has transitioned to the contrary of Chinese conventional one. This continuous struggle generated from seeking freedom and the deeply-rooted bond with y conventional family members.

Female nudity could be viewed as an empowerment on sexual liberation, but is more often considered as a symbol of sexualization. In the center of this piece is the spider selflessly weaving up a piece of fabric using her own hair, and sheltering her eggs with it. However, on the back and front of the spider, the image of me naked is at an angle unseen by her but visible to the audience. My continuous struggle on love and identity is not visible to her, because of the geographical distance also because of this generational gap, but she unconditionally continues to weave up cloth for me even if I choose to expose my nudity.

About the Artist:

Born and raised in China and now residing in Nashville, Xuanyi Zhao (who creates art as Kiko Gio) is a multimedia artist at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Studio Arts and Psychology, with an expected graduation date of spring 2024. Learning psychology and making art are both therapeutic. Kiko’s artistic journey is profoundly influenced by numerous geographical relocations, providing a dynamic and fluid perspective. The journey began with traditional Chinese art school training, emphasizing drill-based drawing practices, before veturing into fine art experiments in college. Unintentionally, Kiko’s work has gravitated towards exploring interpersonal and emotional relationships. Both materially and conceptually, Kiko persistently persues unconventional and avant-garde innovations, reflecting a deep commitment to pushing boundaries of artistic expression.

The doors between the gallery spaces of Space 204 opened on Friday, April 12, to showcase the hard work of Vanderbilt University’s graduating studio art majors and their Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Senior Thesis exhibitions collectively showing under the title The 13: No Vacancy.

The exhibiting student artists are Darien A. Deal, Angelic L. Parker, Laney Moyers, Gem Miller Dominique Greene, Chidinma Onukwuru, Kiko Gio, Jonathan Ma, Mady Johnston, Sydney Featherstone, Carissa Li, Michael Yu, and Hannah Walton.

The 2023 Senior Shows will be on display to the public from Friday, April 12 until Friday, May 10, in Space 204, the contemporary exhibition space in the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Arts Center.

Gallery hours are Mondays thru Fridays, 10am to 4pm.
These exhibitions are free and open to the public.

See the full exhibition.