Senior artist Dana Kamberg is creating a conversation about anxiety, depression and recovery through her series Anxious Ladies.
Kamberg studies studio art with an emphasis in printmaking. She decided to create a series of distorted self-portraits for her senior capstone project, which she aptly named Anxious Ladies. Every senior studying art must create a final art project, which acts as a degree requirement. Kamberg’s collection of silk-screen prints and paintings will be presented alongside other senior artist’s work at the annual fine arts show in November.
Kamberg was inspired for Anxious Ladies after being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
“When I started therapy, I began taking photos of myself every day to document my progression,” Kamberg said.
The photographs eventually became the basis for her self-portraits. Kamberg said by using swim caps to remove her hair and neutralizing various aspects of her self-portraits, she allows the audience to take the place of the figure in her portraits and identify with the anxious feelings.
She said mental health can be a tough topic to discuss, but there are ways to make the conversation more manageable.
“Everyone wants to tackle mental health issues, but it has to be bite sized, and that’s what I’m doing in my series,” Kamberg said.
Kamberg’s classmate, senior Karen Reed, said she appreciates Kamberg’s unique style of caricature. Reed even has a more shy and endearing version of the women shown in the Anxious Ladies series hanging in her apartment.
“Over the years, I’ve seen many different versions of the girl with a swimsuit cap,” Reed said. “I would have to say that the culminated versions of Dana’s character appearing in our upcoming show are some of the most extreme versions I have ever seen. The physical features are the most distorted, and the coloring creates an emotional mood for the viewer.”
Reed said it is clear that Kamberg’s Anxious Ladies are not happy. This makes the viewer want to create a story to explain the emotions captured in the series.
Although Reed does not know the entire story behind Kamberg’s series, she said the bizarre nature of Kamberg’s work makes it approachable without knowing the full context.
“The distorted features, paired with seemingly ordinary, yet out of place settings and costumes, create a mystery for the viewer,” Reed said. “It sparks their interest and makes them consider the deeper meaning of the piece.”
Kamberg said her favorite art mediums are oil painting and silk-screen printing. Her self-portraits always start as paintings in order to help develop a stronger, more consistent style. The pieces have tones of surrealism and expressionism, while also incorporating aspects of contemporary art.
She draws inspiration from various artists, such as Afarin Sajedi and Emilio Villalba, as well as from her classmates. Kamberg said she loves the portrait styles of Sajedi because they are dynamic and interesting.
For a while, Kamberg said she felt as though she had to push her art in a certain direction, and it made her very frustrated.
“There was always this pressure to make my art more realistic and visually pleasing,” Kamberg said. “When I finally let go of that pressure, I was able to really develop my skills and create the things I wanted to create.”
Over the summer, Kamberg had a burst of inspiration and created seven pieces for her Anxious Ladies series. She had previously taken a year and a half off from painting when she was suddenly struck by an urgency to start again — an urgency to keep creating her Anxious Ladies.
For as long as she can remember, Kamberg has been making art. She said that as a child, she loved to paint horses. As she grew older, she took more art classes in school and taught herself new painting techniques. Kamberg said she started off as an education major, but quickly realized she needed to pursue her passion.
“Art is my coping mechanism,” Kamberg said. “I am always working on my pieces, and my brain loves the repetitive process of silk-screen printing.”
Kamberg built an art studio in her bedroom. She said making art is like a full-time job, so it only made sense to surround herself with her work. Kamberg said being truly passionate about something will take a lot of time.
Christopher Taylor is a lecturer and gallery coordinator for the NAU School of Art and has worked with Kamberg in the past.
“Dana is engaged in delving deeply into her work, and it shows,” Taylor said. “I have always enjoyed the character development in her work.”
Post-graduation, Kamberg said she wants to expand on her Anxious Ladies and turn them into family portraits. She plans on exploring bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder and postpartum depression through her series of portraits in graduate school. By getting involved with people who struggle with mental illness, Kamberg said she plans to raise awareness and help gain more resources.
“These three types of mental illness are often underresearched and underfunded,” Kamberg said. “Families who are struggling with these have very few resources at their disposal. We also tend to explore the internal symptoms of mental illness but rarely look at the external ones.”
Through her Anxious Ladies and extended family portraits, Kamberg wants to ensue a dialogue about mental health among her audience.
Next year, she plans to complete her graduate studies at New York University after graduating from NAU in December.