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The poster for "Mea Culpa!" showing at the John Sommers Gallery. Photo courtesy of UNM Art.

UNM student celebrates body, identity in thesis exhibition

 In Latin, “Mea Culpa” is an expression used to accept the responsibility of guilt or wrongdoing. The phrase is used most often in religious contexts to confess and atone for sin, and is ironically the title of senior Lucien V. Sebastian’s bachelor of fine arts thesis exhibition.

“Mea Culpa!,” which is currently displayed in the John Sommers Gallery, explores living as oneself unapologetically and without guilt while existing in cisgender, heteronormative spaces as a transgender man. Sebastian’s thesis is a personal story of queerness, transgenderism, human intervention and the complexities of emotion.

“The exhibition exists first and foremost as a physical manifestation of my past few years of the journey to come to understand myself,” Sebastian said. “It is an exploration of my identity that I have chosen to share with the viewer, combining a plethora of emotions: joy, anger, fear, sadness, euphoria ... and so on.”

The majority of "Mea Culpa!" is tucked away in the left corner of the gallery, with little accents of dripped gold and sparkles scattered throughout the gallery. A walkway created from white bricks is covered with Sebastian’s work: photos, lace, fabrics, etc.

Most of the photographs are, in some way, manipulated, whether it be tears on the edges or in the middle of the photo to reveal a hidden layer, or bent and affixed to the wall in an unconventional way. To the right of the walkway is a fixture on the center wall, crafted similarly to the photos in the walkway: torn, layered and intricately tampered with.

Sebastian’s journey in photography began during the COVID-19 pandemic after enrolling in associate professor Megan Jacobs’ honors course, “The Photographic Eye.”

”Even though we were virtual, I fell in love with photography through (Jacobs’) course, and that was where a fantastic support system began to bloom. Professor Jacobs has continued … to be an incredibly reliable, influential figure in both my art-making practice and in my exploration of who I was,” Sebastian said.

Jacobs served as a part of Sebastian’s thesis committee for Mea Culpa!, creating a full-circle moment for the two in Sebastian’s UNM journey.

“(Lucien) is extremely talented and I’m so proud of the work he’s created,” Jacobs wrote to the Daily Lobo. “I feel so fortunate to have had him in several classes.”

Sebastian said the exhibition is intentionally unique in its construction and use of space, drawing the viewer into a physical, immersive environment that coincides with his own intervention of his art and identity.

“There is the undeniable, unmistakable presence of my own hand and intervention in the presentation of the work through rips, tears, nails, draping … This is to communicate both the hand I play in my own medical transition, from weekly HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to surgery, but also the way others can impact and thrust their own hands into my being,” Sebastian said.

The exhibition will be in the John Sommers Gallery until Friday, April 21. You can find the John Sommers Gallery on the second floor of the Art Building. A reception will take place on Thursday, April 20 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with an artist talk taking place on the final day of the exhibition.

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Jordyn Bachmann is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at

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