Presenting a new take on an ancient story, the Stipe Society unveiled the painting “Plato’s Cave” on Friday at the Creativity & Arts Soiree for Students.
The painting is the work of Emory Alum Kombo Chapfika (‘06C), and is the first of the student and alum artwork planned for the hallway of the north lobby on the main level of the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts.
While the event’s marquee event was the unveiling, the soiree also brought together creative students at Emory. Dance, theater and film activities were just beyond the painting downstairs. Upstairs, the most active station was the Creative Writing Program’s event. Professors and students shared their work with a consistently full room of observers. Outside, students collaborated to paint graffiti on a wall in the afternoon during the hours leading up to the unveiling. With surrealistic bodies and funky colors, the wall was an exhibit unto itself.
“Plato’s Cave” grabs your attention as soon as you enter the hallway with its bright colors and smooth lines. Chapfika was inspired by “The Myth of the Cave,” in which Plato explores the idea of mistaking what we see around us as absolute. Instead, we must use reasoning to see the whole picture. The story of the cave unfolds with each of the painting’s panels.
The first panel features a colorful head, each part of the face and hair swirling into the next, as though the mind within is starting to turn. The middle panel is more chaotic, with swirling, graceful lines. These lines connect to the last panel like the progression of a thought. The lines arrive at the last panel, to a multi-dimensioned Rubik’s cube-like figure. As in the allegory, the sun manifests itself gradually from panel to panel to a full, ruby red in the end. A pair of severed legs, a torso-less skeleton and a faceless child add an element of disconnection in each segment.
“I threw in a few sort-of abrasive, tongue-in-cheek things,” Chapfika said. “People think it’s a clue but it’s just a visual element.”
The new exhibit space in Schwartz opened last semester. It all started when Meg McDermott (‘08C), manager of the arts group STIPE Society invested their long-accumulated funds to commission a work of art. Leslie Taylor, executive director of the Center for Creativity & Arts, explained that because the CCA did not have a space to display the art, they talked to Schwartz and decided on blank canvas of the north lobby as the perfect location for Chapfika’s commissioned work of art.
As a crowd of about 20 gathered around “Plato’s Cave” for the unveiling, Taylor explained the plans for the hallway that eventually will include a brass plaque and Plexiglas for Chapfika’s painting. That and the recently installed track lighting will give the hallway more of a gallery feel, and counteract the effect of the vending machines and lockers across the hall.
Self-deprecatingly, Chapfika explained the process as well as his feelings about the result.
“I like it much more than I did when I last saw it a week ago,” Chapfika said. “It’s not van Gogh, but it’s good, and that’s good enough for me.”
With compliments coming at him left and right after the unveiling, Chapfika explained that while all of this felt good, the biggest emotion he felt was not pride or satisfaction.
“I’m more relieved than anything else,” Chapfika said. “Over four months, I can have a plan. It wasn’t strictly trying to stay on topic but enjoy to myself.”
College sophomore Emily Li said, “It’s very different from what I’m used to. It’s abstract, but it’s a good abstract.”
Dance professor Lori Teague said she was excited about the piece, as well as its location.
“I live in this building, and I want more contemporary art to be in this space — the most central hallway,” Teague said. “I do see all of the art departments in the painting. The legs are what I’m connecting to in it. It’s powerful. I’m just so glad it lives here.”