When you reach the top of the stairs to the second floor of Slifka, you will get the feeling that someone is watching you. In this case, there are 10 pairs of eyes staring at you with intense emotion. Intrigued, you approach. A plaque stands beside the beautiful female faces: 10 names, each followed by 10 words — the girls’ answers to a set of unknown questions. Then you see it. For the first time ever: “bacon” in Slifka.
Don’t get your hopes up, but you won’t be disappointed: the word “bacon” appears under one portrait as the favorite food of one of depicted women — a series of 10 portraits in Slifka’s first completely student-run art exhibition, “Times Ten: Portraits by Lucy H. Partman ’14”. Partman’s exhibit tells the story of Calhoun Dean Woodard’s greatest success story: 10 girls, most of who were randomly assigned to live together as freshman, have become a family.
“The exhibit tries to understand how to create a family, and explores how ours has been created,” Partman says of the theme behind the project. She says that finding a family in her suite of 10 girls who have now lived together by choice for two school years is remarkable. Though each person is different, they all share a common value or aura, she says. For her, family is not defined by any blood tie, but as a group of people who can depend on each other and find a home with one another.
The project itself consists of four parts: a portrait of each of the 10 girls, two smaller paintings of each with a different expression, a poem about family written in English and French and a list of the girls’ one-word answers to questions. While the overall feeling portrayed by the exhibit was similar to the familial warmth that I imagine characterizes their home, the poem, which was written a year earlier, seems to be a distraction from the beauty of the portraits. Partman’s decision to allow the girls’ own 10 words to stand for them was a wise one, as she said, fully capturing them in prose was impossible.
When selecting a place to show her work, Partman says that Slifka was the only suitable place; though only two of the suitemates are Jewish, they have had a suite dinner at Slifka every Sunday throughout their time at Yale. Partman says that Slifka, as a place where they have found themselves together, has become their home.
One of the suitemates, Cristel Oropesa ’14, said that seeing their 10 faces on the wall in a line remind her of all of their memories of helping each other and struggling together through school and life issues. She is, however, accustomed to seeing the 10 portraits together as they previously sat on the mantel above the fireplace in their suite. The process of being painted was interesting, she said, because at first she was unable to recognize herself, until suddenly she was looking at her own reflection. While the portraits were all the same size and shared an earthen-toned style, the personalities of the individuals shone through to reveal young women who are different but similarly pensive. The order of the portraits, Partman said, does not reflect whom she likes best.
Partman’s exhibit also represents a significant turning point for Slifka’s opening up to student artwork. Rebecca Levinsky ’15, the social and cultural chair on the Hillel board, and a production and design editor for the News, curated the exhibit, her first. Levinsky is responsible for many of Slifka’s events, but as a history of art major, she has always wanted to make Slifka a thriving place for students to show their work.
“Slifka has a really beautiful exhibition space. It is important to utilize it to show off student work. I sincerely hope to do at least one more student exhibition this year,” Levinksy said.
CHINO, Slifka’s director of operations, expresses a similar sentiment, saying that one of his goals is to help students not only to dream but also to execute those dreams. He also pointed out that the 10 portraits are reminiscent of a modern take on the role of the minyan, the assembly of 10 men required to practice in traditional Jewish culture.
“With our busy lives at Yale, we become so wrapped up in ourselves that we often stop seeing those around us,” an exhibit-goer Caroline Sydney ’16 points out. “There is something amazing about how the exhibit allows you the opportunity to look directly into the face of another student.”
While I am naturally skeptical, after viewing the show, I found myself hoping to create such a family at Yale, even if no one ever paints me (do it, suitemate Carly Lovejoy ’16!). I was definitely moved by their genuine admiration for each other when talking to the girls in front of their portrait. I think someone needs to start a petition, because though the 10 girls hope to live together next year, Calhoun does not have a suite of 10 for seniors. Partman is sure, however, that they will continue have their Sunday suite dinners at Slifka.