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Lucien Sebastian is a UNM student in the art studio program.

UNM artist subverts the sacred and explores queerness through photography

On Friday, Oct. 21, University of New Mexico senior Lucien Sebastian completed his first solo exhibition, “Arsenal,” at the John Sommers Gallery. He used the exhibition as a means to find catharsis and come to terms with public and interpersonal responses to his identity as a transgender man.

In the exhibition, Sebastian combined photography with a collection of quotes from others in regard to his identity since coming out as transgender and his responses to them. The exhibition ends on a print with the words “never again” etched into it: Sebastian’s personal reckoning and decision to take his identity off the table as a topic of open discussion or debate. The idea for the exhibition’s name came to him after a debate over his identity in which he was criticized for coming into every argument with an “arsenal” behind him.

“I got hung up on the word ‘arsenal,’ since that’s like a collection of weaponry, and I thought about what that would mean in terms of me, because I do feel like I have to constantly be navigating the world, collecting an arsenal of things to defend myself against everyone,” Sebastian said. “I feel like I am always on the defensive and always going to be questioned for my identity.”

Sebastian started off studying illustration for his first two years of college. He eventually began to feel as if he hit a wall with the medium, however, and fell in love with photography after taking a couple classes.

“I love that it’s rooted in the real, first and foremost, so then anything you do to it afterwards, any alteration that you do, it’s already supported by this real thing that you’ve captured,” Sebastian said.

Primarily interested in landscape photography, Sebastian pulled from violent natural events — jagged coastlines, debris on beaches — for his exhibition, creating what he called a “destructive, yet beautiful growth onto the walls of the gallery.” Throughout his work, he is interested in the way light and shadows between human-made and natural objects play off each other.

Andrew Michael Joseph, a fellow UNM artist who met Sebastian at the age of 13, said that Sebastian’s use of nature as a metaphor for the body has inspired parts of his own work, which incorporates some of those same ideas.

“His ability to be honest and open and his ability to create metaphors that are easy for the general viewer to understand while still retaining the depth he wants is something that I’ve always admired, and I think it’s only been growing the more he works on what he’s doing right now with his investigations of his identity,” Joseph said.

Sebastian’s process is interested not only in the image, but in the treatment of the physical print. In “Arsenal,” he physically scratched conversations he had into the ink of the photographs — some were purposefully ripped or presented without frames. For Sebastian, this process was an exploration of the “sacred” nature of a pristine installation in how it relates to conversations he has had about his own body and gender.

“For me that behaves as a catharsis in what it means to transition within my own body and to essentially manually create my body, and for me, I feel, that translated into that sort of treatment of the prints,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian is pursuing an honors thesis focused around perception of the queer body and catharsis of emotions surrounding queerness through comparison of the natural and unnatural. Immediately after school, he plans to move out of New Mexico and continue his art career before eventually going back for his masters’ degree and potentially teaching. For now, however, his chief goal is to focus on “learning how to make art when no one cares about it.”

Sebastian’s work can be found on his website or on Instagram @lucienvsebastian.

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Zara Roy is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at copychief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle

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