Ana Gabriela “Gabby” Perez arrived at Brenau in May 2021 as a participant in the university’s partnership program with IFARHU (the Institute for the Development of Human Resources),Panama’s financial aid agency. This international study program was designed to promote and share opportunities for higher education in the U.S., and Brenau welcomed 16 students from Panama.
“The IFARHU/Brenau University Academic Excellence Program is a five-year program whose purpose is to ensure that outstanding Panamanian students attain a fully bilingual education at a bachelor’s degree level in the United States,” Juan Astegiano of Brenau’s Office of International Strategy & Partnerships said. “This program is geared to providing access opportunities to Panamanian students that have met two criteria: academic merit and financial need, looking to bridge the equity gap by providing educational opportunities to highly achieving students upon graduation from their country’s K-12 public system.”
Interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual art, Perez has been making art in a variety of media since the fall semester. This work was included in the fall student exhibition in the Brenau Trustee Library and the Sautee Nacoochee WinterFest/Hallway Invitational exhibition in February, and she won an honorable mention in the Undergraduate Juried Exhibition in the Brenau Collaborative in April.
Perez’s Devil’s Mask, or Diablicos Sucios, reflects an art form with a long history and tradition in Panama that is used primarily during the festival of Corpus Christi. Celebrated 60 days after Good Friday, the festival began as essentially a Catholic- and ethnic-inspired holiday, and through time has developed into a large and much-anticipated festival in local traditions throughout the country. During this exciting festival, there is much dancing and parading in the streets, with specific performers wearing costumes and traditional devil masks. The making of the devil masks has a long history in Panama, with specific and traditional design methods handed down from generation to generation. Studio Art Program Director Huy Chu held a workshop with the IFARHU students, and Perez used this as an opportunity to create her own version of a diablicos sucios mask.
Gabby first created the form for the mask out of ceramic clay by hand, and then used a paper mache technique to add special paper and foils to create the mask. Once dry, the mask was removed from the clay form, painted in traditional colors, and embellished with macaw feathers. Perez performed in this costume as part of the Cambiando Vidas: Changing Lives in Panama held in the Burd Center on Nov. 18.
Professor Claudia Wilburn invited Perez to participate in the Spring Showcase for the Arts by carving a lino block to be printed with a steamroller. Perez’s lino-block piece was her first experience in this art medium, and when asked about her inspiration for it, Perez said that she has “developed quite an appreciation for the art nouveau style,” and she attempted to include this in her piece titled The Lovers.
Perez explained that many of the symbols she chose to include also represent the two themes of fertility and longevity. Grapes have been symbols of fertility for centuries; the moon also represents fertility; the addition of stars was to help accentuate the moon and celestial feel of the piece. Perez also shared that this was the first time she had drawn a couple and she wanted to “reverse” the more traditional way of posing the man and woman — choosing to reflect the woman above and holding the man — representing strength, while the man is in a lower position and represents calm and peace.
Perez, who has completed the initial college readiness portion of the IFARHU program at Brenau, will begin her undergraduate program as a studio art major this summer at the university.