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I have a dream.
Fight the power.
Make love, not war.

The volatile 1960s peppered American culture with a wealth of activist and countercultural slogans.

Another refrain has gained traction in today’s social powder keg: being woke.

“Being woke,” notes Urban Dictionary, means “being aware … knowing what’s going on in the community.”

The watchwords perfectly capture “Awakening,” a daring new mixed-media exhibition by Beacon College student Christopher Padilla. It opened Friday at The Kristin Michelle Mason Art Gallery.

Chris Padilla Awakening Exhibit
Christopher Padilla and one the pieces highlighting his senior portfolio, “Awakening.” (Photo: Darryl E. Owens)

Padilla’s senior portfolio largely presents haunting graphite drawings such as “Rheumatic Fear,” featuring a skeleton astonished at its missing lower right leg, and “Beautiful disability,” juxtaposing a skeleton with a crooked spine and malformed hand with a vase of flowers. Padilla uses bare bones and everyday symbols to flesh out a universal truth to which he says everyone should be woke.

“All human bodies have a skeleton in them — we’re the same inside — but outside we act differently, and that’s OK,” says Padilla, a studio arts major from Pembroke Pines, Fla. “I made images with skeletons along with many diseases and physical disabilities like [cerebral palsy] because we have to help them [individuals with challenges] and show them we are one.”

Christopher Padilla - Charcoal  “Chris’s work pushes the boundaries of beauty,” said Russell Bellamy, an associate professor of art and chair of the studio arts department at Beacon College, the first college or university accredited to award bachelor’s degrees to students who learn differently. “He questions our interpretation of physical beauty as well as artistic and architectural aesthetics. The exhibition asks the viewer to internalize how we react when confronted with unconventional pulchritude and the effects our actions may have on the future.”

Padilla also pushed boundaries with his titular installation piece, “Awakening.” He turned the metal skeleton that he clothed with sheets of fabric skin covered with symbols into a performance piece by channeling Jonah and taking up residence for 24 hours inside the belly of his beast.

“Chris’s performance questions the possibilities of transformative experiences,” Bellamy said. “Through retrogression he was able to utilize natural materials to depict mental, physical, emotional and conceptual exhaustion. ‘Awakening’ is an installation that forces the viewer to confront modernity and its psychological effects on society.”

For Padilla, the effect was clear.

“It drove me nuts,” he said, half-jokingly, “It was the scariest experience I’ve ever had had.”

Nevertheless, a necessary journey led him down the path to the overarching lesson that informs “Awakening.”

“I wanted people to see what’s happening, what’s the warning, what’s ahead of us,” Padilla said. “This [illustrates] that we need to step and work together to make a better society. It’s time to wake up from the dark side and not make the same problems over and over, the same mistake. I want people to realize that we’re all human beings.” 

“Awakening” runs through December 15.