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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Leaving Behind More than Just a Mural

Just a few months ago, the hallway outside of the University Bookstore in the Melville Library could be summed up in two words: white cinderblock.

Now the wall is full of color. Painted books, including the childhood favorite Where the Wild Things Are and Alice Walker’s literary classic The Color Purple, are neatly wedged between painted red bricks.  Arches evenly spaced throughout the bricks and books show different university traditions and landmarks. One painting shows unique boats floating in the Roth pond for the yearly regatta, and another shows the sun setting over the Student Activities Center.

These bricks, books and arches are part of a mural that was created by art students over the summer. The mastermind of the project is a soon to be graduating senior, Sophia Dang.

“I really appreciate that everyone can see this,” Dang said. “It’s not in some gallery where it will be stored away. It will be here forever.”

Dang, an art history and studio art double major, was selected to head the project due to her experience painting murals in New York City. Her past experience not only got her involved in creating the mural at Stony Brook, but also convinced her of a need for an art education a few years ago.

Born and raised in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, New York, Dang always loved to draw and paint. At age 10, she moved with her parents and younger brother to Coney Island and attended New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn. She was never able to take art classes, but in the summer of 2007 after her high school graduation, Dang was introduced to art on a large scale.

Dang started out working for Groundswell, a community non-profit mural organization based in Brooklyn. Dang was assigned to a group within Groundswell called Voices Her’d, which focuses on art that addresses social issues affecting women. That summer, Dang and 14 others in the group created a mural focusing on art being a vehicle for social change. The mural, entitled, “Art Builds Community and Community Creates Change,” now stands five stories high on the side of a building on 18th Street and 6th Avenue in Brooklyn.

“It’s using art not just to show people that we can paint, or say ‘that’s a pretty picture,” Dang said. “But it shows that art can actually say something and address issues that people might not talk about or that people are dealing with but can’t really address.”

When the summer was over, Dang entered Stony Brook as a freshman, taking biology and chemistry classes. After some large, lecture style classes and some poor grades, Dang decided to take an introductory level drawing class and an art history class. After thoroughly enjoying her second semester at Stony Brook, Dang went back to Voices Her’d to continue to work in the summer of 2008.

It was that summer when Dang realized her true love for art. She worked with Voices Her’d on a mural at 23rd Street and 3rd Avenue, located on the side of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Brooklyn. This mural was based around female veterans in the war in Iraq.

“When I worked on this mural, I realized that this was a really powerful way to show people what others are thinking, not just yourself,” Dang said. “It’s almost like you’re speaking for those who don’t have the ability to speak for themselves.”

Dang returned to Stony Brook in the fall of 2008, and switched her major to studio art and declared art history and business minors. She began delving into her major requirements and took her first classes in ceramics and sculpture. It was here that she met ceramics Professor Nabuho Nagasawa. This was also the semester wherein Dang decided to transfer out of Stony Brook.

In order to pursue a serious career in art, Dang decided to transfer to New York University. She said that she wanted a school that was more focused on the arts.

“I picked up everything and left,” Dang said.

Her transfer did not last long, however; after she received an offer for a position as a resident assistant back at Stony Brook, Dang transferred back before classes even started.

When she returned to Stony Brook, she changed her art history minor to a major and added a digital art minor. She’s been back at Stony Brook for almost two years now, and knows what she wants to do. Many were happy to see her return.

“As much as I think it’s great for the student to be in the city and to have that extra excitement of being in the city and going to the exhibitions, I was so excited to see that she was back and chose us to be the school she would graduate from,” Nagasawa said. “So when she signed up for the class I thought OK, this is wonderful.”

Dang says she’s come full circle. She’ll be leaving Stony Brook next spring but will leave behind a mural, the kind of project that got her interested in art in the first place.

“I’m ending my studies here with something that I can leave behind on a wall for everyone to see,” Dang said. “And I think the people who have worked on it too, they’re people that I’ve met along the way and it’s something that we worked on together and it connects us.”

Nagasawa says that Dang has grown tremendously since she came back to Stony Brook. According to Nagasawa, Dang started with great potential as a shy Asian-American student.  Now she will be graduating, but leaving behind more than just the mural.

“I hope the people who worked with her will also have some experience that I think is in a way is more than the actual artwork,” said Nagasawa. “It’s an experience of working together and overcoming difficulties and communication issues. And I hope that kind of experience is going to be carried on through the people that worked with her. I think that’s the most important thing.”

One of Dang’s art history professors, Rhonda Cooper, has known Dang since she was a freshman, which is when she began working as an intern in the art gallery. Cooper says she hopes Dang pursues her master’s in fine arts, and says Dang would make “an inspiring art professor.”

Though Dang doesn’t know what post-graduation will bring, she knows someone will have to pick up where she started with the mural at Stony Brook, which now spans only part of the hallway. The hope for the finished product would be for the mural to extend the full length of the wall and include other events and landmarks from Stony Brook’s history.

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