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New VU Gallery exhibit showcases student artwork

Let these artists pull you into their orbit

Tai Vugia’s “1039” (2023) on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 23, 2023. Vugia is very passionate about ecological conservation, and he lets that shine through his art. // Photo by Aubrey Black

The newest Viking Union Gallery exhibit promises to have a gravitational pull. With works from 10 artists from Western Washington University's bachelor of fine arts cohort, "In Orbit" displays a range of mediums, from oil painting to mixed media and sculpture. 

Carson McCully, the current director of the VU Gallery, started planning this exhibition before they even got the job. McCully worked as a gallery attendant last year, when the first cohort exhibit was held, and was so inspired by the vision that they began planning the next one almost immediately. 

“I really hope this continues because I think it’s good for the VU Gallery to collaborate with artists on campus,” McCully said. “It’s also nice for the artists to be able to show off their work throughout the year.”

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Isabella Yates’ “She’s Just Like You” and “All Used Up” (2023)  on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 23, 2023. Yates explores the fetishization and commodification of women through her artwork. // Photo by Aubrey Black

The cohort exhibited their work in Western’s B Gallery last quarter, and after the showing at the VU Gallery concludes, they will be doing a final exhibition in the Western Gallery during spring quarter.

Creating art often comes with a plethora of costs in supplies and equipment. Make.Shift is a nonprofit art space in downtown Bellingham with a mission to make the creation of art and music more accessible to the general public.

“A lot of what we do at Make.Shift is aimed at making as many low-barrier opportunities as possible to create art and music,” said Riley Currie, the outreach director for Make.Shift.

While not everyone is able to create the kind of art that the BFA cohort does, allowing the public to access their art can inspire others to try something new, like attending a workshop at Make.Shift.

Fourth-year Western student Ellie Fuda attended the reception that was held in the VU Gallery on Feb. 23 in support of her long-time friend and member of the cohort Alicia Gomez-Morales. 

“I think art is a great way to form community,” Fuda said. “I’m in environmental studies, so I don’t really get to interact with other parts of the school, and I think [attending] is a great way to support [my peers].”

Ash Polk-Wheelock and Isabella Yates are both members of the cohort and have their art on display.

Polk-Wheelock’s “home made: queerness and cats” explores queerness in a domestic setting. Acrylic paintings of magenta and orange depicting slices of queer life and a 3-D paper tableau communicate Polk-Wheelock’s vision of the comfort of home and queer joy.

“My work talks about how the home is the place where you can be both radically yourself and still be safe and comfortable,” Polk-Wheelock said. “I also wanted to bring some levity to queer representation because I feel like there’s a lot of melancholy.” 

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Ash Polk-Wheelock’s “home made: queerness and cats” (2023) on display in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 23, 2023. Polk-Wheelock enjoys bringing a lighthearted lens to queer life and domesticity. // Photo by Aubrey Black

Cats are a staple in Polk-Wheelock’s pieces. He says he finds cats to be icons of both queerness and domesticity, making them the perfect icons to incorporate into his work.

Yates’ “She’s Just Like You” and “All Used Up” are jarring looks into the fetishization and perceived disposability of women in society and her personal experience as a woman. Yates recently gained an interest in antique dolls and began using them as references for her artwork.

“Using an object that looks like a woman says a lot more than just simply using a woman,” Yates said. “The buying and selling of these dolls speaks a lot to the commodification of the female body and feels very reflective of my own experience.”

Yates uses her art to speak about things she feels too afraid to say out loud. She hopes people who feel the same way can find solace in her artwork.

“In Orbit” will be on display in the VU Gallery until March 9. The VU Gallery is open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cohort will have a final showcase in the Western Gallery during spring quarter. Follow their Instagram for updates.

Aubrey Black

Aubrey Black (she/they) is a second-year news-ed major at Western. She enjoys making Spotify playlists and perusing used bookstores. 

You can contact her at

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