Photographer and UM alumna Jaime Aelavanthara is set to lecture at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Mississippi Museum and will return the following day for a gallery walkthrough from 6-8 p.m. to discuss her exhibit, “Where the Roots Rise.”
Aelavanthara received her bachelor’s degree in imaging arts at Ole Miss before receiving her master’s degree in photography from Louisiana Tech. She now serves as a faculty member at the University of Tampa teaching photography and foundations courses.
“Where the Roots Rise” is a series of tea-stained cyanotypes displaying scenes taken across Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.
“It is my sense that visitors have been highly intrigued by the cyanotype blue hue and the haunting, intriguing nature of the image content itself,” museum director Robert Saarnio said. “I see visitors lingering in front of individual images longer than is common in many photography shows.”
Many images have a peaceful tone, and photographs such as a bird nesting or a young girl resting in camellias represent oneness with nature.
“The biggest theme I see is interconnectedness between humans and the natural world,” Aelavanthara said. “For example, how a deer spine aligns on the back of a human as if both are part of each other, how a palm frond becomes the hair of a woman or how cicada wings can function as a well-manicured fingernail.”
However, the exhibit also explores the mysterious connection between human death and worldly decomposition through photographs of bones and darker-toned images.
“There are themes including death, decay, growth, transformation and beauty,” Aelavanthara said. “Overall feelings I associate with the work would include a sense of reverence, romanticism, an ethereal view of the natural world and, at times, haunting.”
Aelavanthara said her inspiration came from her move to Florida in 2017. She found a county park that, unlike most of the state’s landscape, wasn’t just flat.
“It was a significant moment of inspiration for me this year when I found this magical landscape located only 10 miles away from where I reside,” Aelavanthara said.
The piece also plays a large role in bringing back memories from Aelavanthara’s younger years. She claims that many of these works remind her of growing up and exploring the winding trails and muddy banks of rural Mississippi with her siblings.
Another image that references Aelavanthara’s past is “Out of Africa,” which she said connects to her experiences traveling to Africa while in college.
“This portrait reminds me of women I saw there carrying bundles of cut grass on their heads,” Aelavanthara said. “And it also features the palm plant, which is a species that connects back to civilization itself.”
However, while many of her works display times throughout her past, one particular work, “Chrysalis,” represents her present state of being.
“‘Chrysalis’ addresses this preparatory or transitional state I find myself in as I start a new teaching position and find myself learning and growing in a new location,” Aelavanthara said.
Junior business major Kaleigh Guyton visited the exhibit and said she found the images “strangely comforting.”
“This series reminds me we are all made of bones, and whether it’s nature or humanity, we have the same inside components,” Guyton said. “It also speaks to me that too often we are concerned about outward beauty and things we look at everyday, but what we forget to remind ourselves is that the inside has the parts that matter and keep us alive.”
Though Aelavanthara will only be on campus through the end of the week, her exhibit will be available to view through Dec. 1.