Image of Fatima Eshani, President of Jesus College Art Club. pic credit: Helena Howard
Fatima Eshani, President of Jesus College Art Club. Pic credit: Helena Howard

Jesus College Art Club hosts first exhibition of members' work

Jesus College Art Club is celebrating the completion of a major milestone - its first ever exhibition.

Fatima Eshani (2017), Art Club President, describes how the club has evolved since its inception in 2019 and now runs three nights a week from the College's new (this academic year) art room.

What inspired the launch of the art club? Who is involved (students, Fellows and staff)?

The art club was set up by Jean Bacon, the Master, and Lisa Rowe in 2019. The club was open to all staff, students, and fellows. People could meet once a week in the Cricket Pavillion to do activities such as drawing still life, botanicals and architecture. After COVID, participation fell, and this was when I stumbled upon the club.

At this point, Art Club was meeting in the Brewery Room. I was apprehensive about joining at first. In principle, I like art, and I enjoy making art. However, I was worried I wouldn't fit in without any fine art ability or technical skill. However, after a few sessions, my apprehension was slowly overshadowed by how it felt to clear my mind and focus on creating again for fun. I remember feeling a transcendent calmness setting in and a distance from all of the stress of Cambridge - a welcome feeling. Even though it was just a few of us some evenings, I would still attend weekly and encourage different friends to join every week to share in the joy of Art Club.

When Jean reached out to me for help running the club in 2021, I knew I wanted to share the calm I had felt with as many people as possible. I founded the JCSU Society Art Club as we know it today, secured funding and encouraged the club to branch out into more mediums, such as working with acrylic paints and clay and lantern painting. I wanted to ensure that Art Club feels approachable to everyone at all levels and feels like a comfortable space to be creative in all forms. I started advertising it on social media to encourage more students to join and formed the first art club committee. As more and more students entered, I continued running events in the pavillion with the support of the committee and Jean. We didn't realise that behind the scenes, Jean and other key staff were in talks about setting up a dedicated art room in College.

What have you been working on at the art club?

Art Club moved to the new Art Room at18 Jesus Lane (accessible via the Study Centre) last term. Since then, with the help of our fantastic committee and Lakshana and Julia, students who lead the yarn crafts evenings, we have begun running three nights a week this term. 

During Lent term, we also put together our first exhibition. We had 176 work submissions from students, staff, and Fellows from all over the College. Jean and the current committee have been instrumental to this; Jean formed the initial idea of an exhibition and our committee running with it - Sofia Monarchi (2023) making the fantastic exhibition posters, Helena Howard (2021) photographing the event and publicising regular events, Smiley Chan (2023) and Anna Putland (2023) with fab work behind the scenes such as cataloguing all the work and leading meetings and admin with College teams to make sure the opening would run smoothly! Tim Jepsen (2017), Isaac Heller (2023), and I spent multiple evenings until late, curating and hanging all the artworks to ensure everything submitted would be included and could shine. With help from various College departments, we pulled off an exciting week for art in College. 

What has been the most exciting/inspiring/amazing thing to come out of it?

A countdown of my favourite 10 things achieved by the art club in the last year or so:

  1. Our first collaboration with catering was to create an art club-themed Formal Hall, with a menu we made, including highlights such as Van Gogh's Sunflower Chicken and Monet's Garden Ratatouille. The formal sold out in eight minutes.
  2. Our new art room, which artist and sculptor Anthony Gormley visited earlier this year.
  3. The prospect of more student exhibitions to come.
  4. Our exhibition opening to the general public had upwards of 150 people attending over the weekend via the public access door directly into the Art Room from Jesus Lane.
  5. Our short film 'Poster Reveal', which we released on Instagram during exhibition weekend, garnered attention from as far as Australia!
  6. Our weekly events this year have been popular, having, on occasion, over 50 attendees.
  7. Our weekly social media reels, stitching together short clips of the work we've done each week, which you can find on Instagram @jesuscollegeartclub
  8. Student artwork from the exhibition will be displayed around college spaces as of Easter term!
  9. The current art club committee consists of an emeritus fellow, three first-years, a third-year, a final-year medical student and an alumnus - members spanning all across the college community, working seamlessly to make it all happen
  10. The first time I overheard someone say during an art club evening that this was "the most peace I've ever felt at Cambridge", I knew my mission had been successful.

What did the exhibition show?

The exhibition showed us the breadth of talent in College, spanning all years, including staff and fellows. It required a lot of input from various departments around the College, and it was so lovely to have so much help and support from the College to make a really successful exhibition week. The execution of the exhibition and opening events showcased what enthusiasm and teamwork can achieve. Our exhibition opened on 8 March (2024) and continued until 15 March (see photos below for an example of the work on show). 

What are the next steps for the art club? What is in your future?

After the success of our first exhibition, the club will definitely plan to do more exhibitions soon. Next term, we have weekly Tuesday evening events planned as usual. We also have an exciting collaboration with the Intellectual Forum in May 2024 where we will be turning the Frankopan into a gallery for the first time, to complement a lecture on the works of Leonardo Da Vinci (watch this space). We will also be introducing the invention of Art Club Sundays, quiet times on Sunday afternoons for art/studying with the Art Club during the exam lead-up. We want to make sure no one ever hesitates to join any of our events. Art is about enthusiasm, creativity, and connecting with yourself in the moment. Art Club is for everyone!