Student Artist Spotlight: Sadie Graeff ’22 explores facets of identity with art

Through their art, Sadie Graeff ’22 asks viewers to question what makes a person who they are. (Photo by Caroline Burns ’22)

By Madeline Marriott, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor

Sadie Graeff ‘22 turned to art to carve out their spot at Lafayette. Their work is focused on the body and identity and covers themes such as mental illness and physical disability.

According to Graeff, art is about communicating rather than simply making things. Art “is a language all on its own that can cross language barriers and cultural barriers.”

“I recently had to start using a cane. It’s been very helpful, but a lot of people got weird around me when I started to use it,” Graeff said. “So a lot of my art this semester in particular has to do with the use of my cane. I’ve been dealing with mental illness for more than half my life, so it’s featured very prominently in my work.” 

Graeff, a self-described multimedia artist, has recently focused their work on printmaking and sculpting. Their capstone project, a semester-long endeavor meant to integrate skills students have encountered in previous work for their major, focuses on the question of what makes people who they are. 

“I’ve made molds, or plaster casts of my face, and I’m turning them into traditional masks that can be worn,” Graeff explained. “Each of them has a physical piece of me in it, like a strand of my hair.”

“It’s asking the question ‘at what point does a thing become someone?’” Graeff said of the project. “If someone is wearing the mask of my face that has a piece of my hair in it, how much of them is me at that point?”

As a transgender and a non-binary student, much of Graeff’s work has focused on that aspect of their identity and has evolved throughout their time at Lafayette.

“A lot of my initial stuff was my internal feelings. I made some portraits of myself freshman year that had to do with my inner thoughts, my inner identity, how I can see myself as a person,” Graeff said. “Now a lot of my stuff has to deal with how difficult it is to exist at Lafayette as a trans, disabled person.” 

This theme permeates many of Graeff’s works, one of which was displayed publicly during President Nicole Hurd’s inauguration this fall. Graeff was one of five artists featured on billboards ascending up the side of College Avenue on the way into Easton. The theme of the exhibition was “Your Spot Is Here.” 

Graeff designed one of the billboards in the center of the display, which depicts a half-painted Lafayette logo with the trans flag spray painted over it.

This work was both an expression of frustration and a tribute to the transgender community at Lafayette. 

“It was a time when I had been very, very frustrated with the school, and I wanted to be a little bit irreverent,” Graeff said. “When you’re at a school that asks you to make a billboard about how your spot is here, but you don’t always really feel like your spot is there, it’s something to get a little bit irreverent with.”

“It’s both a statement that we belong here and a reminder that we are here and that we deserve to be treated with respect,” Graeff continued. 

Currently, Graeff is preparing for a spring semester full of work on their thesis, the tentative title of which is “Making This Is Going To Hurt Me.” 

“I’m going to be making life-sized body casts of myself and recording performance art of me demolishing them with a hammer, essentially,” Graeff explained. 

All of Graeff’s art strives to connect struggling people to one another.

“The things that I make my art about, I don’t just make it because it’s stuff that I experience. I deal with mental illness, physical disability and the way the world treats trans people, but I also make this art as a way to reach out to other people who have experienced the same thing,” Graeff said. “I want to let people know that anyone who experiences these things is not alone.”

“Passing Time” (Photo courtesy of Sadie Graeff ’22)