Photo exhibit focuses on meaning of eye contact

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 23, 2004

Eyes really are the window to the world for Penn alumna and artist Beandrea Davis. Revealing profound life stories, the eyes of nine women serve as the focal point of her photographs.

A reception for Davis' exhibition, "Through Her Eyes: Works in Photography and Prose," was on display at the Kelly Writers House Saturday night.

The main goal of her work is "to explore how gender affects seeing and being seen at specific moments in the lives of a diverse group of women," said Davis, a 2003 College alumna.

For Davis, eye contact in particular is an important, but often ignored, societal behavior.

"The ostensibly small act of making eye contact with [another] human being is rife with complications in our modern, increasingly dehumanized society," Davis said. "Ultimately, I believe our society's comfort level with eye contact is a litmus test for the current state of humanity."

All of the photographs featured a woman's face with a poem underneath that described a particular experience with eye contact. The poems took on a stream-of-consciousness format and highlighted themes of honesty, self-esteem and inherent human kindness.

In search of subjects, Davis sent out e-mails to different listservs. Once she selected the women that she wanted to photograph, Davis interviewed each woman. She wrote the accompanying poems by re-arranging words the women used in their interviews.

One of the featured women, 2002 College alumna Afia Ofori-Mensa, said, "It's interesting to see how the project developed. I thought it sounded interesting when she first presented me the idea, and it's been cool to see how it's grown."

The attendants found Davis' art to be powerful.

"Her work connects to everything," 2003 College alumna Emily Schiffer said. "Eye contact plays into how we carry ourselves and how we see each other. It's a basic human element that needs to be recognized."

Even for the employees and volunteers of Kelly Writers House, constant viewing of the work does not dilute its message.

"Ever since this exhibit went up, it felt like these nine women were watching us," said Writers House employee and 2003 College alumna Adrienne Mishkin. "It is very eye-catching and intense."

Some students felt Davis' photographs were directly related to common attitudes on Penn's campus. Wharton junior Eliot Jarrett said, "I think kids at Penn avoid looking at each other in the eye, especially on Locust Walk."

While mastering degrees in African-American Studies and French, Davis managed to also find time to study photography at Penn. Over 40 college friends, art collectors, family and interested students attended the event, which was Davis' first solo exhibition.