Senior’s exhibit brings mental illness to light

Lisa Herdman

“Hireath” is a Welsh word meaning a longing for a home that never was and never will be.

This is the theme of “Chicken and Dumplings,” a gallery by Christian Sauerman, senior fine arts major at Washburn University.

The gallery is being featured May 2–18 in the John R. Adams Gallery in the Art Building on the Washburn campus, including original photography, etches, video and printmaking.

Sauerman said that most of the pieces took him roughly two years of research, and creation around a year and a half on some projects. The show is about understanding and taking apart his past. It is a cathartic process of comparing his childhood’s state of mental illness to how he is now. Chicken and Dumplings was the meal his mother used to make him when he was a child, though his mother was very abusive and manipulative.

“A lot of my work is to talk about my illness,” Sauerman said. “As a society we put a barrier around it. There is a stigma with mental illness. My photography is exposing myself, since people can’t see the issues I face.”

His piece “399,546,” an installation including two fridges on an indoor plot of dirt with grass growing around them, helps to illustrate the struggles of his past.

Sauerman said he created the installation of fridges and grass to represent the breaking down of the emotional and social construct of a nuclear family, the fit structure and taking it apart. If a kid makes a piece of art, the parents would hang it on the fridge, but here the fridge is not accessible. It is either lying on its side or taken over by nature.

“I wanted to juxtapose the ‘American dream.’ The family isn’t perfect, and there is no white picket fence,” Sauerman said. “Kids like myself did not have that kind of thing. It’s a paradigm; We all wanted it. I’m throwing it in disarray.”

Sauerman said he didn’t start creating art until he was in seventh grade. High school was the time that he realized that he wanted to seriously pursue art in college.

“I kept drawing a horrible flower in seventh grade, then just kept drawing it. I thought I would be an architect or engineer, or pastry chef for whatever reason,” Sauerman said. “I started making art and will go on to get a master’s in photography.”

Sauerman said he will be walking in May and graduating in June. He plans to apply for graduate school out of state. He’d like to go to the University of Oregon or Ohio State in a few years. He plans to keep making art and possibly work in a design firm.

“A lot of my work is to talk about my illness. We put a barrier around it,” Sauerman said. “Talk about what is making you sad, have an open dialogue. My art is all about expressing that I may seem happy or fine, but in reality you don’t know what other people are going home to.”

Sauerman’s gallery reception is May 6 from 6–8 p.m. in the John R. Adams Gallery in the Art Building.