Second-year Carter Samuels was amazed by the sight of his art displayed at the Sesnon Underground Gallery. Returning to in-person classes this quarter after spending a year online, he understood the theme of “Homecoming.”

“I saw [the theme] being about growth and coming back to normality while things are still kind of different,” Samuels said. “My piece is a self-portrait about me finding new identities as an artist.”

 “Homecoming” exhibits the many methods that student artists used during the pandemic to express themselves, and what they are looking forward to now that they are back on campus. The gallery features a range of works from students, including videography, sculptures, paintings, and prints.

Sesnon Underground is an innovative, instructional, student-run facility where UC Santa Cruz students can display their artwork. It is affiliated with the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery in Porter College. With the support and guidance of the Sesnon Gallery, artists organize, install, and promote their exhibits.

Three women stand side by side in front of a wall of art. From left to right, curators Madison Garay, Beatriz Juarez, and Edie Trautwein smile through their masks.
Curators Madison Garay, Beatriz Juarez, and Edie Trautwein smile proudly at their first in-person gallery for the Sesnon Underground. Photo by Lucy Wald.

“Because we’re student-run, we are pushing boundaries of what you can do in the gallery,” said curator and third-year Madison Garay. “There’s no higher-up saying ‘It’s just not feasible right now,’ or ‘We don’t have any interest in that’ because we’re not making any monetary profit off of this.’”

The exhibition was curated by Garay, fellow third-year Beatriz Juarez, and fourth-year Edie Trautwein, who have been virtual interns at the Sesnon Art Gallery and Sesnon Underground for the past year.

Despite “Homecoming” being Garay, Juarez, and Trautwein’s first in-person exhibition, the three found the transition from online to be easier than they thought. 

“We sent out an open call to all student artists and got replies fairly quickly,” Trautwein said. “We’re thankful that the gallery is still present in the UCSC community, that things were done properly and with care.”

Sesnon Underground reached out to various student-run organizations and student artists to submit work. Third-year transfer Vanessa Arrivas heard about the gallery from her roommate, Garay, and had many options when choosing her piece for submission. 

Arrivas had been taking film photos throughout the pandemic of her friends and family, hoping to capture the rawness of the world around her. 

“It took a lot of time because I’m a film photographer and I developed some of my own stuff, but for the most part I scan it myself, so I had to go through hundreds of pictures,” Arrivas said. “It was a very tedious process but I’m very content with what I showed.”

Ultimately, Arrivas decided on a photo of her birthday cake from last year, titled “A 20th Birthday,” in a time where she wasn’t feeling celebratory. 

“This photo was a rebound to last year with my birthday. It was the last big thing to happen before we were ordered to stay at home,” Arrivas said. “So fast forward to this year, my parents want to do something special for my birthday but keep it low-key, just for everyone’s safety.”

When everything was remote, Sesnon Underground continued its mission by having virtual exhibitions. This year, it reverted to a hands-on educational environment for the UCSC community. 

The gallery brought in hundreds of visitors on opening day. While the guests are hidden behind masks, the art is on full display. First-year Nyah Thompson stumbled upon the gallery walking from the Porter/Kresge Dining Hall and was stunned.

Artist Vanessa Arrivas stands in front of wall displaying her photography. She smiles through a mask next to an image of her 20th birthday cake.
Artist Vanessa Arrivas shows off her photography from her 19th birthday at the Sesnon Gallery. Photo by Lucy Wald.

“I’ve been to galleries before, but this is my first time coming to one in a while,” Thompson said. “The whole vibe is nice, I like how open the room was and how all the pictures drew you into the gallery.”

In future exhibitions, Sesnon Underground is hoping to encourage students from all disciplines to not only observe, but contribute to its exhibitions.

“Last time I was here I wasn’t an intern, I was just a Porter student that walked in at random,” Garay said. “So to actually see the fruition of our efforts is amazing. We would love to see more students from other colleges coming in and sending in their work and proposals.”

The “Homecoming” exhibition is open to visitors behind the Porter Koi Pond until October 22nd. To learn more about upcoming galleries and events at the Sesnon Underground Gallery click here.