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Graduate students fuel artistic Fires

Pink and silver cluster sculptures and a mash-up video of “The Godfather” and “Gone with the Wind” are among the graduate student works on display in a new Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) exhibition.

“Starting Fires,” which opened Friday and runs until May 7, has more than 40 pieces from 11 graduating Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students.

This fifth annual MFA graduate exhibition includes paintings, performance art, ceramics, video and other forms of media.

In his six featured oil paintings, Ryan Foster addresses themes such as knowledge, coexistence and religion.

His piece, “Either Or Vs. Both (Where everyone is right but no one really believes in anything),” depicts a figure with a crown of thorns, yellow robes, a turban and outstretched arms holding items like a measuring cup.

Foster said the work is intended to be a critique of religious pluralism.

“We all have a different version of the same truth,” Foster said. “We can all be wrong, but we can’t all be right.”

Foster said his bold statements have bothered some of his colleagues in the art department, but he hoped this would help prove his artwork as meaningful and relevant.

“It’s not meant to offend, but open up a very important dialogue that not many people want to open up to,” Foster said.

To the right of the gallery’s entrance is Ellen Mueller’s installation and performance piece “Waiting Room,” which uses chairs, a television set and a table with magazines to recreate a typical waiting room.

During Friday’s reception, paid actors re-enacted the dull everyday act of waiting in line, while the public was welcome to interact by sitting in empty chairs.

Jessica Raposo, a sophomore in pre-med, said she was initially confused to see people in an art museum standing in single file as if they were waiting in line at a doctor’s office.

“(I) never thought that something like this would be art, but it was definitely an interesting way to look at the mundane activity of waiting,” she said.

Mueller said she hopes the work might help onlookers be aware of the action of waiting, which people do almost unconsciously.

“The idea that we wait for so many things in life – whether it might be for doctors, to graduate – this work is meant to encompass the aesthetics of the act of waiting,” Mueller said.

The exhibition also features Mueller’s “Book of Enid,” a 130-page picture book that Mueller said follows a time-travel narrative with various characters based on herself.

“It is about a time traveler who goes back in time to stop a violent crime,” she said. “All the characters basically depict facets of my own self.”

Mueller will return to the CAM every Friday at noon to read aloud from “Book of Enid” while sitting in her “Waiting Room” installation.

Many of the works in “Starting Fires” involve MFA students’ self-exploration.

China native Lin Li’s collection of paintings of Chinese-Americans in Tampa, such as CAM staff member Tony Palms, includes a self-portrait.

Justin Martin’s video, “I’m Too Sad To Tell You,” explores his vulnerable side by filming his tearful face.

Francis Marquez even created five fabric, yarn and craft costumes – the “Chonga Suit,” “Salsa Suit,” “Fran Suit,” “Nude Suit” and “Rumbera Suit” – that she said are facets of herself.

“It all started by making the ‘Fran Suit,'” Marquez said. “I wanted to make an icon of myself by constructing a costume of myself.”

A Miami native, Marquez said the costumes represent her dealing with the heavy influence of Latino stereotypes and cultural values found in her family and Miami.

All five costumes are lined up in a row with headpieces hanging above on separate shelves. The display also includes a video of Marquez dancing while dressed in the costumes.

CAM is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

For more information on the exhibition, visit