Fine arts faculty artist represented WSU abroad

BY HANNAH LAMBERT | Evergreen reporter

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When WSU professor Io Palmer received her letter of acceptance from the Dakar Biennale in Senegal, she thought it was a fluke. The letter was written in French, which she knew just well enough to make out that she had been accepted. However, when she took it to a friend fluent in the language, she realized exactly what the acceptance entailed.

Palmer was one of about 60 artists featured in the International Exhibition of Dak’Art 2014, a month-long exhibition ending in early June. This year was the 11th edition of the Dakar Biennale, which encompassed several sites across the city, utilizing warehouses to display the sculptures, paintings, videos, and other works.

The Biennale covered all of Palmer’s expenses, flying both her and her work to and from Senegal and paying for a hotel.

“They treated their artists like royalty,” Palmer said, adding, “It was the most sophisticated, most top notch exhibition I have ever been a part of. I kept thinking it was… an error.”

Born in the small town of Palea Epidavros, Greece, Palmer grew up very simply. Her family had an outhouse, chickens, goats, and sheep. Her parents were both artists as well, and took their work very seriously.

“They didn’t see (art) as something frivolous,” she said. Palmer inherited their passion for art and said while she does like to have fun, her art is certainly more than just a hobby.

“I think that time is very precious,” she said. “I try and be really good about my teaching time… my time to be in my studio… it’s almost like my artwork is a relationship that I cultivate every day, and I’m very serious about that.”

The majority of her work looks at systems of excess in society, Palmer said. At the moment, she said she is looking at couture garments that are extremely expensive and purchased by very few women and then merging the idea of how society manifests its excesses with catastrophes such as oil spills. She sews beads, bangles and other materials onto canvas formed into the shape of aerial views of oil spills.

She said she hopes people see her work as “both gaudy and pretty and beautiful and excessive and ugly all at the same time.”

One of Palmer’s colleagues who teaches sculpture, Squeak Meisel, described Palmer’s work as dynamic.

“(Her pieces) are both beautiful and repulsive at the same time,” Meisel said, referring to her work based on oil spills.

Palmer has been on sabbatical for the past year and said she is excited to be back in the classroom.

Working at a research university like WSU has enabled her to travel a lot, she said.

“I’ve been to India, to China… these wonderful countries, and a lot of that is because WSU has supported that and encouraged that,” Palmer said.

Thom Brown, chair of WSU’s Fine Arts Department, said Palmer’s acceptance to Dak’Art 2014 was very positive for the department and that there’s room for even more support when it comes to faculty and travel.

“If you have faculty that are research active, it’s really important to find ways to support them,” Brown said.

Palmer said she and a friend spent six days in Dakar before the show, enjoying the scenery and culture.

“The food was amazing, the people were beautiful… the big exhibition was terrific… I felt like a movie star,” she said. “They were so kind to us.”

She added, “I was so thankful and honored that it happened and that my memories of Senegal… are so warm because of the biennial.”