The Daily Gamecock

Best of Show winner at student exhibition generates conversation about sexual assault

The 62nd annual juried student exhibition is currently on display on campus in the McMaster gallery. University of South Carolina students submitted original artwork and on Feb. 23, juror Catherine Walworth, the new Curator at the Columbia Museum of Art and a freelance arts writer, announced her selections that would receive awards. Three awards were given to works submitted by undergraduates, three were given to graduate students and there was an overall Best of Show selection.

Allison Dunavant, a North Myrtle Beach native, pursued art in high school. However, her original plan was to attend Coastal Carolina University for an undergraduate degree toward pediatric medicine or speech pathology. She ultimately decided to study art in college, despite some discouragement from others.

“I have this interest in art, I’m going to regret it if I don’t try to do something with it,” she said.

Dunavant, now a second-year graduate student at USC, received the Best of Show award. Her artwork was comprised of two screen-printed images. They are titled “Sexual Misconduct Third Degree” and “Aggravated Assault.” Both images feature the mug shot of a young man, probably around 25 years old. This individual has been arrested six times for sexual assault, but has not served any jail time.

Dunavant’s concentration was originally in painting and drawing. She initially tried hand sketching the mug shots, but after receiving feedback that they were not aggressive enough, so she decided to try screen-printing.

She submitted her art for the juried exhibition during the last hour that submissions were being accepted. The images were products of the first round of screen-printing that Dunavant has completed.

“It was a happy accident — the part where I didn’t pull the ink all the way through, but it kind of works for what I’m doing because I wanted it to be more messy,” she said.

Most of Dunavant’s art is centered on sexual assault, but she recognized the difficulties associated with portraying this subject.

“I tried doing more graphic stuff, like actual rape scenes, and it doesn’t come across well. People are either offended, or it just looks like an erotic image,” she said.  In addition, Dunavant did not want to victimize sexual assault survivors or make them relive any traumatic moments.

Dunavant has plans to expand this project into a series, where she features more mug shots of different men that have been arrested multiple times for sexual assault.  She has debated including more notable and recognizable names such as Brock Turner or Bill Cosby. For her final thesis show, she has considered covering an entire gallery from ceiling to floor with different distorted mug shots.

“I am a strong believer in that art should have a purpose, as far as changing something socially,” she said. She noted that artwork has the option to be purely aesthetic, something to hang in your living room and admire, but Dunavant aims to generate a social conversation.

“I think art has this unique opportunity for us to present social issues and propose changes,” she said.