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Baxter native wins BVU photo contest

STORM LAKE — Katie Van Zante, a Buena Vista University senior art and arts management major from Baxter, is the winner of the BVU 2011 Study Abroad Photo Contest. Her entry, “Morning Star Children at the daily afternoon assembly,” was captured during her spring 2011 semester in Accra, Ghana.

When Van Zante decided to add a study abroad experience to her BVU transcript, she evaluated her options very carefully.

“I wanted an experience away from the Western-dominated world. I wanted to experience life somewhere different,” she said. “Studying abroad gave me a new perspective on life. Escaping from the ‘me’-centered life where the latest exam would surely be my demise to this completely different world made me replace my value system and truly make a path for myself. Without a doubt, living in a third-world country, even if I was living separated from the country’s poverty, changes things.”

Van Zante selected Accra, Ghana, in West Africa and went there via New York University with her friend, LeeReyna Leyva, a senior art and arts management major from Redfield. While in Ghana, Katie took classes at three different universities, Asheshi University, NYU — Accra, and University of Ghana. She also completed two internships — one at Artists Alliance Gallery, the largest gallery in Ghana, and one at Morning Star School, a private primary school.

Throughout her classes and internships, Van Zante carried her camera to document her experience.

“At first I was leery of taking too many photos because the culture wasn’t very accepting of photography,” Van Zante said. “Many people were worried about what the photos would be used for and were not very keen on being photographed. If you took a picture of someone, it was expected that you ask first and then show them the image after you take it.”

Her photos show more than classrooms and scenery in Ghana. Van Zante found a way to showcase the culture and heritage of the community around her.

“My favorite photos were the ones that captured daily life,” Van Zante said. “Africa is so negatively stereotyped here. My family was sure I would be attacked by a lion or thought the only reason I would choose such a location would be to serve as a missionary. Ghana was nothing like what I had expected, and taking photos of the real, contemporary country was my way of showing my family back home the beauty I was surrounded by.”

She entered one of her favorite photos — students at a daily afternoon assembly at Morning Star School — in the Study Abroad Photo Contest. It was a classic example of daily life and a way of simultaneously showing similarities and differences between American students and those in Ghana.

“Before and after each school day the children would line up outside according to grade for an assembly. They would sing the national anthem, have a prayer and get caught up on important events,” Van Zante said. “My first day at Morning Star the head mistress introduced me to the Morning Star community at such an assembly. After the assembly, children surrounded me curtsying and saying, ‘Good morning Auntie Katie,’ or ‘Nice to meet you Auntie Katie.’ I have a deep emotional connection to this photograph and hope that other people will be able to enjoy a little piece of the joy of Morning Star School.”

Van Zante is an honors student who based a portion of her honors thesis on her experience abroad on the relationship between colonialism and art.

“Katie’s study abroad experience helped her understand the effect of colonization and globalization in the Ghanaian art world, which also caused her to stop and question how globalization actually affects her own thinking and current artwork. This self-discovery has brought her artwork to a more mature and professional level,” said Mary Mello-Nee, BVU associate professor of art.

As the winner of the Study Abroad Photo Contest, Van Zante will have her photo framed, matted and displayed with past winners on the second floor of Social Sciences and Art Hall at BVU. She also will receive a $25 gift certificate.

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