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On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts

August 6, 2019
Individuals from across CLA’s 31 academic departments participated in 60 portraits, taken at 60 different locations over two semesters. Hundreds of faculty, students, alumni, and staff contributed to make this exhibition happen, 186 people were photographed, and 2,779 photos were taken for this project.

For 150 years countless faculty, students, staff, and alumni have made what is now the College of Liberal Arts. How can one, then, represent 150 years of hard work, struggle, inquiry, study, delivery of information, and service?

On Purpose: Portrait of the Liberal Arts shows only a fraction of time in the history of the College of Liberal Arts. More than portraits, these are documented encounters with remarkable people who are passionate about their roles as alumni, as students, as professors, and as staff. This collection highlights who we are right now; this is how we look, this is what we are interested in, this is our work, and this is how we present ourselves to the camera.

In today’s world, where communication through technology pushes for individualism and isolation, where we’re becoming less and less sensitive to the human condition, portraiture becomes increasingly important for preserving our humanity, culture, care, and love. I employ portraiture not just because we simply like to watch people’s faces; I take portraits to have personal contact with the subjects I photograph. Faces are malleable, persistently changing, continually transformed, constantly modified to portray emotion, sentiment, excitement, passion, or disdain. When we encounter a portrait, we dare to stare. We immediately interpret the moment the picture was taken and that person’s attitude. We try to have a conversation with the mute sitter.

I hope that throughout the years we will look back at these portraits, continuing the conversation with the people I was so grateful to meet.

The exhibition received enthusiastic reviews from the media. This MinnPost review encouraged even non-CLA visitors to check out the gallery: “They’ll get a great sense of the depth of the work that’s done here,” [College of Liberal Arts Dean John Coleman] Coleman said. “They’ll get a sense of the power of the inquiry and its relevance. I look around and see the deep dignity of the people in the photos. This is deeply moving to me.”

It was to us, too. Tavera’s beautiful portraits are worth whatever time you can spend on them. There’s humor and wit, seriousness and playfulness, the dignity Coleman mentioned, and a shared sense of pride.

View the On Purpose gallery online