The Artist otherwise known as…Mei Kazama ’16

Mei Kazama ’16’s work, hanging in the Career Center reflects finding a community at the College. Christian Ruhl/ Photo Editor
Mei Kazama ’16’s work, hanging in the Career Center reflects finding a community at the College. Christian Ruhl/ Photo Editor

In her last year at LaGuardia High School, Mei Kazama ’16 created an intricate drawing of circles referring broadly to time and the cycle of life. Although she has enjoyed drawing and creating art since elementary school, Kazama’s primary love was science and she drew much of her inspiration from her biology classes. Her initial goal at Williams was to major in biology and keep art a hobby.

Kazama did not plan to enroll in any art classes as a first-year at the College, yet, when she was dropped from an overenrolled English class for the fall, Kazama decided to sign up for a drawing class. Even though she was impressed by the College’s art program and felt she learned more that fall than she had in her four years of high school art classes, Kazama still considered art a side activity. Dedicated to biology, she decided to focus solely on science and avoided taking any art classes during her first-year spring. It was only a matter of time, however, until she began to miss it.

When she came back for sophomore fall, Kazama realized how much time she wanted to devote to art: “I was always going to the studio … I would spend my Saturdays there, and it never bothered me.” She developed relationships with professors in the art department and started to maybe consider pursuing two majors. Then she went to southern India during Winter Study to study religion, art and yoga. There, she made it a personal goal to use a sketchbook every day and sketch everything around her. Thrust in a foreign country, Kazama felt overwhelmed and confronted by an excess of information and found her daily sketches to be a grounding mechanism that eased her culture shock. Sometimes Kazama would sketch something without a clear conception of its final composition or meaning, only to find weeks later that the drawings encapsulated exactly how she was feeling and the changes she was experiencing at the time. “Art … helps me be more aware of my thoughts and what’s going on around me,” she says. By the end of the trip, Kazama reflected that those three weeks had become that most pivotal in her experience at college so far.

In reaction to the trip, Kazama reconsidered the meaning of success. “Everyone has their own personal paths and whatever success entails for that path is what success means. So it’s different for everyone, and it’s up to everyone to figure that out on their own.” Although Kazama still loves science, she realized she was interested in studying the subject based on a conception of success that she has now discarded. Kazama explains, “Art helps me realize a lot of things about myself and other people. The relationship I have with art is … mutual … I give a lot to art and art helps me realize things about myself and other people.” Having reached this conclusion, Kazama realized she could not give art up and declared herself as a studio art major that spring. Last summer, Kazama earned the Williams C. Millard 1929 Fellowship for an international project that compared street art and museum art in Europe. For eight weeks, Kazama traveled through five countries studying the effect of the environment on viewers’ understanding of artistic expressions. Kazama found museums to be largely artificial spaces, whereas street art is heavily present in the everyday experiences of its audience. In Berlin, she produced some of her own street art after scoping out appropriate neighborhoods and spaces: “As long as you go to the right neighborhood … it might be illegal but … there was no problem at the places that I did it,” assured Kazama confidently and amusingly. She hopes to incorporate her discoveries into the presentation of her own work, combining elements of museum and street displays.

Before embarking on her summer travel, Kazama submitted work to the Mears Art Competition at the College’s Career Center. Her work, which responds to a call for art that represents life as an Eph, won and is now hanging above the center’s mantle. Kazama observes of the piece, “I went back to my circle frenzy,” describing a composition of circles of differing sizes organized in a flowing pattern. The work reflects the process of finding a community at Williams. Smaller circles represent first-year students, and larger circles that separate from the mass represent graduates who enter the world having built confidence in their authentic selves. Looking ahead, Kazama observes that the circles she has always loved are “transforming.” She sees her style evolving from an early intricacy to more bold statements. When interviewed, Kazama was looking forward to the first day of her junior seminar, and said of her shifting style “I don’t know where it’s going yet, but I feel it happening.”