Maya Pal SC ’23 hosts gallery talk on Wardell Milan’s world of alienation and connection

The exterior of the Benton Museum at Pomona College on a sunny day.
The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College has started a new series of informal gallery talks. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Have you ever wondered about the story behind art pieces displayed in entryways? Or the reason why certain pieces use a certain style? To provide answers to these questions, the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College has started a new form of engagement with the Claremont community: weekly “gallery talks” where students, faculty or contemporary artists themselves host informal chats about various art displayed at the Benton. 

These gallery talks started this semester, and one of the first of these events was facilitated Oct. 26 by Maya Pal SC ’23. Prior to the talk, Pal had spoken to artist Wardell Milan on his bodies of work through her position as a museum ambassador for the Benton.

The works featured in last week’s gallery talk were the pieces placed in the reception hall of the Benton by Milan. Milan is also the artist behind Pomona’s new billboard installation, called “5 Indices on a Tortured Body,” which features five different marginalized bodies in five different locations on Pomona’s campus.

The four works displayed in the entryway of the Benton were inspired by the isolating effects of the pandemic, coupled with Black Lives Matter protests and reckoning of identity on a systemic scale. There are themes of alienation and connection, explored through the medium of acrylic paint layered with cut and pasted paper to convey the complexity of selves that exists within a painted form.

Working closely with Milan allowed Pal to learn more about his motivations in creating his recent works. 

“I really loved hearing his explanation of how it was created during the George Floyd protests and the sort of intersection of isolation but also everyone coming together and having to learn how to re-engage with each other,” Pal said.

This philosophy of his echoes in the larger themes of connection that he employs in his art process. His pieces are a meditation on the complexity of social interaction after long bouts of pandemic-induced isolation, and his artwork is not something he intends to hide. His motivations and inspirations are laid on the canvas, opening his interpretation of the world up to the public eye.

If you look closely at the paintings, the viewer can make out two faces in these paintings. The eye-catching piece, “My knees getting weak, and my anger might explode, but if God got us then we gonna be alright” is arranged in the style similar to “Raft of Medusa” by Théodore Géricault, pointing to the influence of classical painting recontextualized in a contemporary style. 

According to Pal, Wardell Milan’s recent works aim to deconstruct and reconstruct the human body, evidenced by the four displayed pieces. The idea of breaking something down and building it back up again fascinates Milan as an interior investigation of human emotion. 

The feature of “5 Indices on a Tortured Body” coupled with Milan’s recent works allow students to bring their observations of this more public form of billboard art into the setting of the Benton. 

Benton communications assistant Caroline Eastburn asserts that these programs are meant to be very relaxed and informal, and furthermore meant to start a conversation about the thought-provoking art that the Benton features.

“We wanted to create a more regular program that was more casual,” Eastburn said, “so that students could drop by during their lunch breaks and learn something new.”

Wardell Milan’s Recent Works are on display at the Benton until April 2nd. Students can attend a gallery talk every Wednesday from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m.

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