The art department is currently working on two memorials to honor D’Sean Perry — who was an involved Studio Art major in the College — including a bench next to the Culbreth Garage and banners of Perry’s artwork which will hang around Arts Grounds. As students, faculty, friends and family continue to grieve the tragic events of last semester’s shooting, the University community has come together to ensure the legacies of D'Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler are not forgotten.
Victoria Valdes — assistant director of the Visual Resources Collection in the Art Department — devised the idea to memorialize Perry by using art to honor the profound, distinct impact he had beyond the football field. For Valdes, these memorials are informed by her personal connection to Perry, who was one of her students.
“He just was wonderful to work with,” Valdes said about Perry, whose altruism and passion for his artwork was evident to those who interacted with him. Valdes recalled carrying a 60-pound bag of plaster down the hall when Perry offered to carry it for him.
“He was so enthusiastic, he was kind, he got the other guys engaged,” Valdes said. “He would go out of his way to make sure that they were on the same level with him and that they were up to up to date on whatever we were working on at the time.”
Third-year College student Jay Pendarvis, a fellow student athlete and friend of Davis, Chandler and Perry, noticed Perry’s kindness in their shared class, the African American theater class on the bus during the shooting.
“We had to get in groups [in class] … D’Sean was sitting at the back and he had his group already,” Pendarvis said. "He looked over to me and I didn't have anybody. He was like, ‘Bro, you're coming to work with us’... If he saw someone wasn't included in something, he would try and include you. I really appreciated that.”
Along with his ardent commitment to football, Perry was extremely dedicated to his art, which is reflected in the pieces he created.
“[Sports] can be very draining and take a toll on your body,” Valdes said. “To then be able to turn around and use your body in a different way… you're molding or you're cutting or you're sanding… all these activities sort of allow you to step back and just be creative… this inspiration comes out of your own needs and desires.”
Valdes recalls a specific project in photogrammetry — a method of creating 3-D models — where Perry not only created the one model that was required, but went home and made multiple additional pieces. In one of these models, Perry created a bust of himself as Greek myth character Icarus.
“It was a representation of how he felt with football and his major and all the academic pressure at the same time as a sports pressure,” Valdes said. “Sometimes [he felt] like [he was] overthinking and flying too close to the sun.”
Valdes hopes the bench — located near the garage where the shooting occurred — will transform the location into an area for students to both rest and reflect on the lives of the victims.
“It's really easy for a generation of students to move on through the University and then wonder what happened there,” Valdes said.
The proposal for the second memorial, pending the University’s approval, intends to replace various miscellaneous banners hanging around arts grounds with banners depicting artwork Perry left behind.
While the University art department initially intended to complete the memorials by what would have been Perry’s graduation this spring — for which his family will be in attendance — the installments must first undergo a lengthy approval process because of their affiliation with the University. This process involves the University Architect, who will make sure the bench is up to code, and University Communications, responsible for all appearances of University branding.
The memorials have the full support of Perry’s family, with whom the University art department has been in contact.
“[Perry’s parents’] heart's desire is to really just see D’Sean memorialized,” Valdes said. “To see that we care and that we were invested in him, and we truly were.”
The art department remains committed to honoring Perry during final exercises. Fourth-year Studio Art majors’ final spring show will feature an area reserved for Perry’s artwork, alongside other student pieces responding to the tragedy.
Pendarvis, a fellow Studio Art major, will have one of his pieces on display, which he created for another class as a response to losing Davis, Chandler and Perry. He created a wearable angel wing, designed specifically from Perry’s Icarus statue.
“I kind of wanted to symbolize them as guardian angels in the sky, rather than continuously looking at the tragedy,” Pendarvis said. “The easiest way for me to get through it, I think, was to see them as angels, looking over us now that they're not here anymore.”
On the outside of the wing, Pendarvis added flowers while maintaining details of feathers to adhere to Perry’s original creation. Moving up the wing, the flowers begin to decay, symbolizing the passage of time, from life to death.
Accompanying the physical wing, Pendarvis, who is pursuing a concentration in cinematography, is working in a class to create a film to accompany the wing to explain a bit more of its context.
“We had one of my teammates wear [the wing],” Pendarvis said. “Once we're done filming we'll probably take the straps off and make sure nobody wears it again, because it's, it's hard to put on…we'll probably put it on a stand and put it in D’Sean's senior showcase along with the video that accompanies the wing.”
Pendarvis’ response pieces, along with other student responses, will be displayed alongside Perry’s exhibit in the Studio Art majors’ spring show, which will officially open on May 20.
“[Perry had an] overflowing sense of life,” Valdes said. “I would love to see more guys and gals from [sports] teams come in and actually engage with the arts. It's such a great way to sort of express the fullness of your personality.”