Dibner Art Showcase

Students Destiny Iheakanwa and Katrina Ramirez hosting the event

Student curators, Katrina Ramirez (left) and Destiny Iheakanwa (right)

The Dibner Art Showcase is an annual exhibition that invites students from across the university to submit pieces for display in Bern Dibner Library, located in 5 Metrotech.

Although you would be forgiven for thinking that any exhibit taking place at the School of Engineering would have technology as its theme, this year’s student curators, Destiny Iheakanwa and Katrina Ramirez, who worked with STEM Instruction and Engagement Librarian Amanda He to mount the event, had a different idea. Students express themselves through technology every day, they reasoned. What if they ignored the obvious and asked participants to instead explore the theme of “self” — how they truly identified and what that identity meant to them, how they wanted people to see them ... who they really were at their core.

Iheakanwa, a junior studying biomolecular science, and Ramirez, who entered Tandon’s Integrated Design & Media (IDM) program in order to bridge her love of both storytelling and tech, received submissions from dozens of students, both from Tandon and from other schools across the university.

As their inboxes filled with poetry, paintings, drawings, photos, zines, and other pieces, they found themselves faced with a challenging task: deciding which submissions to exhibit. They were reluctant, they explained, to make subjective judgements about the artistic merits of a piece, given that each artist had very evidently poured themselves into their work.

Ultimately, after evaluating each submission to determine whether it adhered to the theme, Iheakanwa and Ramirez winnowed the exhibit to some 20 pieces, including a colorful artwork made by asking students around MetroTech to create a small piece representing themselves and then collaging those mini pieces together. (Who knew that there were Tandon students whose self-image involved pandas, aliens, and crown-wearing puppies?)

Other pieces seemed to share a similar sense of whimsy but were, in reality, more serious in nature. "I am... not going down!" by Ashna Mali, of the Class of ‘26, for example, was inspired by the image of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who, disregarded and exploited by the powerful men in her life, descends into madness and drowns herself. The three-panel piece depicts a cartoon figure, being swallowed by the ocean but defiantly fighting to remain afloat. The character is mad, she explains, “because I'm mad; it's easier to be myself, outraged and unserious, through a funny face than in my own human skin.” The piece takes on added resonance when you find out that Mali, who is earning a bachelor’s degree in interactive media arts from NYU Tisch, was once advised by a high school art teacher that no one would take her seriously if she persisted in creating cartoons.

Ami Cai, who is earning a master’s degree in game design, submitted a multimedia journal of sorts in the style of a magazine — a collection of photos, illustrations, and writing that chronicles a summer of her life in which she went home to Kentucky, stayed with a good friend for several weeks, and traveled to Japan to study Shinto. Another of her pieces, "The Book You Were Never Supposed to Read," a tiny zine containing her musings on her queer identity, was also part of the exhibit. While the first collection was intended to be an alternative to social media for family and friends who wanted to keep up with her, the second was meant only for herself. She purposely made it small enough to shove into a pocket, she says, “to replicate pushed-away thoughts of queer pining and my journey in exploring that part of myself.”

Applied Physics major Vincenzo Miguel Gallegos loves music and poetry — and creates both — but at 28, he realizes that his professional career lies elsewhere. “There’s ample beauty in physics itself,” he asserts. Besides, he is all too aware of the constraints inherent in even his own art. In a poem aptly titled “Self,” he writes:

If you could combine all of the words in all of the languages to try and

try to describe me . . . they’d fail . . .

The infinite number of combinations of these limited ideas would fall

short of . . .

Well . . .


The exhibit can be seen at Dibner Library until early-May 2024 or view it on-line.