The new Lights and Shadows Gallery

Event Feature


Art by Sydni Benefield

Julie Yakasa, Volunteer Writer

 Since the 1970s, the Lights and Shadows art competition has been a tradition at the University of North Alabama’s art department – one that students as well as the surrounding community look forward to each year. This year, in hopes of reigniting community spirit, Gallery Director, Professor Chiong-Yiao Chen decided to give the competition a new life after noting how COVID-19 dampened the overall morale of students and faculty alike. 

This year’s competition will be held Nov. 15th-23rd in the Visual Arts Gallery on campus. It is known as the “New Lights and Shadows Competition,” and will encompass the same premise as years past, in the hopes of simultaneously sparking a new competitive spirit among not only the art students themselves, but also the local community.

What makes this year different from past years? While in the past, the show has been judged by guests, this year it is being judged by the department’s very own faculty. While remaining anonymous, their expertise guides the process of choosing who is accepted as well as selecting award winners. According to Professor Chen, “faculty are the logical stewards” of this initiative, both in terms of judging and validating the art. Not only do professors and other faculty get a say in these awards, but this year, for the first time, the competition will also include an exhibitor’s award, which is entirely voted on by students. This new addition will help generate dialogue among students, which in turn will help push them to think critically about their own work as well as one another’s.

Everything about the competition, from judging, to award structure, to the experience gained by participating is designed to help students advance in the professional field of their career. For many students, this is the first exhibit they will enter their work in. For this reason alone, it is an invaluable experience for students to learn how to professionally apply for shows as well as display their work. 

“It challenges the student by putting the work out there. There’s this level of vulnerability that you have to have to put it out there,” Associate Professor Aaron Benson, Chair of the Visual Arts and Design Department said.

Benson emphasizes the significance as well as uniqueness of seeing one’s art work in a designated space separate from their own studio. 

“It then begins to separate the work from the studio practice and the finished

product. It then elevates the final product,” He said. “[This] challenges the student to then make better work.”

Ultimately, according to Benson, those who are not art students may be wondering how or if any of this is applicable to them. He strongly encourages and assures everyone that it is both relevant and important to them, because art is a relevant aspect to all lives in one form or another. 

“Remove art and design from your life, and you live a very bland and boring life. You would remove furniture, eating vessels, magazines, photographs, posters, paint color for your walls,” he said.

For the faculty, this competition is a reminder of the art that is all around them in their lives, and specifically the work that is being made in their very own town. Benson explains that this competition is reminding not only the outside community, but also the art community itself of the validity of arts and design.

Those who come to this year’s exhibition can expect to see a wide variety of mediums of work, including both 2D and 3D. The work they will see reflects work being made by the university’s art department, which reflects a future generation of art. 

Art by Alexis McAdory
Art by Sydni Benefield