Student exhibition highlights art, science and new pathways

December 15, 2023

It’s almost unheard of for a first-year college student to curate an exhibition at a prestigious art institution. Yet, on a recent December afternoon, three new undergraduates at UC Berkeley — Raena Chan, Emma Cusimano and Caitlyn Liao — guided visitors around Five Tables of Art & Climate Change, a one-day pop-up show they helped curate at the campus’s Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA).

In a section of the museum normally reserved for archival research, the students showcased artistic depictions of environmental themes from BAMPFA’s collections on and around a group of five tables. There were historical photographs, paintings of animals and a 10-foot-long handscroll, all selected by the trio and a dozen of their classmates. The exhibition was the group’s final project for Professor Sugata Ray’s Art and Climate Change course.

“It was a refreshing change from the average lecture course,” said Chan. “We had a lot of flexibility about what we wanted to study and the pieces we chose.”

When students enrolled in Ray’s course, they were not expecting to learn to be curators. Several doubted they’d even have discovered BAMPFA as a resource on their own. Ray sought to promote awareness of the museum through the exhibition project, along with the lesson, he said, that students should treat museum collections “as artifacts of history, rather than rarified works.”