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Nora Vanesky sorts through her prints in the UNM photography grad lab.

UNM art student opens first solo gallery


Nora Vanesky, a University of New Mexico senior studying studio arts, has been reaching into herself and painting with the entrails for years. On Sunday, Feb. 6, she opened her first solo show, “Taking Pictures to Remember,” in the John Sommers Gallery, showcasing photography surrounding the gory hedonism of modern youth and the interplay of sex and violence. The display will remain until Sunday, Feb. 20.

Vanesky has been infatuated with the inner workings of the human body and mind all her life. She believes her art showcases the reality of being human without holding anything back.

“For me, making art about guts and gore, it’s a way of kind of drawing back to the fact that in the end that’s what we are,” Vanesky said. “Censorship kind of takes hold of things. It’s much less often that we see a real, visceral (piece saying,) ‘This is what it means to be human.’” 

Vanesky began her creative career in photography and performance art and has since expanded her skillset to include textile creation, painting and digital media, drawing inspiration from artists such as Nan Goldin and Vito Acconci.

“When I’m looking at art and thinking about art, the things that draw me in aren’t aesthetics but the way (the art) makes me feel,” Vanesky said.

Student Jack Ambarian spent two and a half years on UNM’s Model United Nations team with Vanesky and has followed her work ever since 2018, admiring the evolution of her art and taking inspiration from her spontaneity and individuality.

“She’s a big character and she is not forgettable. She’s one of those people that you know is going to do something big. She has always seemed like one of those people who isn’t going to be content doing what everyone else is doing and that most certainly shows in her work,” Ambarian said.

Vanesky attributes a great deal of her desire to create to her memory and an ensuing fear of losing out on her own life.

“I have a really awful memory,” Vanesky said. “I’ve desperately captured these moments that felt really fleeting.”

Ambarian met Vanesky when photography was her primary focus and took a particular interest in a series of photographs she took posing with dead bees collected humanely from keepers.

“She used to do photoshoots with bees, dead bees, and it actually almost got her in trouble,” Ambarian said. “Her art has always been a little bit out there, and, from what I can tell, it seemed like she was one of the first ones doing this sort of thing.”

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Vanesky has had a lasting effect on Ambarian’s worldview and has encouraged him to venture out more in life.

“I’ve done a lot of personal growth since I met her, but one of the things I learned from her was to be more spontaneous, take more risks and reflect later,” said Ambarian. “Ask forgiveness; don’t ask permission.”

Vanesky hopes to eventually go to graduate school to continue her studies in studio arts, but her immediate plan is to take some time away from school to seek out fellowships with more established artists on the East Coast.

“It’s kind of taboo in the art world to go straight into grad school post-undergrad,” Vanesky said. “So even though (graduate school) is in my future and I desperately want to (attend), for the moment my plans are to kind of look around for residencies, and I’m moving to New York to see if I can get my work shown there.” 

Ambarian expects to see great successes from Vanesky and looks forward to seeing her upcoming work.

“I am very excited to see what she does,” Ambarian said. “If she does go to New York, she is going to kill it.”

Vanesky is hosting a reception for “Taking Pictures to Remember” on Friday, Feb. 11 in the John Sommers Gallery.

Natalie Jude is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at or on Twitter @natalaroni 

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