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Back to Blog May 5, 2021

Meet our 2021 Tyler Student Speakers

Author: Zachary Vickers

Two graduating students, Henry Morales (BFA, Painting) and Marc Williams (BFA, Photography), of the Tyler School of Art and Architecture will give remarks at Tyler’s Commencement ceremony on May 6. In anticipation of this event, both students met over Zoom to reflect on their experience at Tyler. Watch the video above for a clip from their conversation, and read a longer excerpt below:

Marc Williams was born and raised in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania and now is a Philadelphia-based artist. Before coming to Tyler, Williams played football his entire life—the structure of an athlete’s day, he noted, is something he retained throughout college, waking up early and not sleeping in. In his art, Williams uses photography and videography to investigate the identity of the self. Utilizing the influences of pop culture and his own experiences, Williams makes work that exposes his multifaceted identity.

Henry Morales, born in Los Angeles, California attributes his upbringing in Las Vegas, Nevada (after moving there in 2004) for being a night owl. Morales enjoyed theater in high school, performing in musicals, finding the roles that didn’t include singing. In 2018, he received his Associate of Arts from the College of Southern Nevada. His experience as a first-generation Guatemalan American informs much of his practice, inspiring him to explore themes of labor, immigration, identity and place.

Below is an excerpt from their conversation: 

Henry Morales: In the fall, I was given the opportunity to be part of an artist residency, which gave me and some classmates a space to show art safely during the pandemic. It was a great way to bring everybody together and start to foster that community again. How about yourself? What have you been involved in this year?

Marc Williams: I've been in Artists of Color Collective for the last two years. We've had people from across Tyler and Temple. We meet to make work, critique it, and just hang out. But the meetings went online this year.

So it's kind of like you said, we weren't given a space, so we made a space. I think since COVID-19, we've really amped up and banded together. I think a lot of us, especially me, saw we really need each other. 

HM: Being able to have a space for people of color, to share ideas and thoughts and help each other is important. Community is part of being an artist that not a lot of people talk about. We have this strong drive to be good but we also need to acknowledge everybody around us and help lift each other up. 

When we were doing the residency show, I kept saying, "We got to have that Wu-Tang mentality." Everybody knows in that group, they're each fantastic but together, oh boy. We're Wu-Tang. Together, stronger; individually, we grow.

MW: I definitely feel that Wu-Tang mentality. I've been trying to have my circle of friends, my peers, kind of come along with that same thing. 

Do you think there was a moment at Tyler where you just feel like you got it? "This is what I do. This is my art. This is how I think about the world." 

HM: I think I've always had an inclination to bring awareness to my upbringing. I didn't see a lot of my culture represented in popular culture. I didn't see first generations being talked about, or Guatemalans. I'm a Guatemalan. Moving to Philadelphia away from my family [in Las Vegas] has kind of really reinforced who I am.

Being able to share the paintings in the CARAS grant-funded exhibition I did was really great for me, because that body of work was speaking to the type of labor my family does. When I was installing it, putting up labels, like, "My dad, Arturo," in Spanish, "Mi Papa, Arturo," and my cousins. The final label was my mom's, "Mi Mama, Blanca." And when I put it there, I just walked back and started tearing up. I was like, "This is my family. This is beautiful." I was so happy to see my family and acknowledge their labor and be proud of it. How about yourself? 

MW: I remember my first Foundations professor, Buy Shaver. He compared a children's drawing to an adult drawing with a similar aesthetic. We talked about the differences and the thinking that went into them. That really stuck with me. 

In that class, I drew how I felt and what I was thinking about. For the first time, I made art. This is what art is. It is something I genuinely feel is true, my captured experience.

HM: I think that's one of the most important things to take away from our experience is the people that have kind of fostered growth. My understanding of art has evolved since I got here. Now, I love it in a completely different way. It can express one's ideas, and it can connect to its own history, your own history.

One teacher that was super influential in this thinking was Dona Nelson. Her class really opened up a lot of different avenues for me that I didn't think of before. She made me think about the artist, the intention, all that jazz. 

MW: I remember coming to Simona Josan on the brink of tears. Everyone around me was making new discoveries in their art. I said to [Josan], "I’ll do whatever it takes to be better. Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” She said, "Marc, look where you started and look where are you now? Think about where you'll go based off of that." We talked a lot, but no matter what, she always affirmed that I was going to be good as long as I worked hard and kept doing what I had to do. That experience has influenced me throughout every class, every critique and every paper at Tyler. 

Then, last year, when I was selected for the Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition, Open Video Call, I felt so prepared, so polished. And it was scary because I’d never done something like this before, but felt so ready for all of the process, like talking about my work with the curator and describing the “what is it?”

HM: Do you have any advice for the next group of incoming Tyler students? 

MW: Go out there and make a diverse group of friends. They’re your support system. Just make conversation with someone you didn't know yesterday because you don't know where that relationship is going to lead you. From random conversations, I learned something new about the world. It's better for you. I always just opened up myself to being in conversation with people who came from a different upbringing than me, or who I was just curious to learn something from. 

How about you? Any advice?

HM: Don't be scared. Put yourself out there. You're not going to learn from being quiet. How are you going to grow without failing? Don't be afraid to explore other disciplines at Tyler either. And, yeah, try to get to know people, too.