Olivia Hernández had already graduated college and held several jobs by the time she realized that she wasn’t on the right path. Originally from Miami, Hernández graduated from Baker University in Baldwin in 2011 with a degree in political science and international studies. Five years later, she’s a University senior working toward a second undergraduate degree, this time in visual art.

Hernández’s film "material girl hallelujah" won in the Short Film Work-in-Progress category from the CreActive International Open Film Festival in Bangladesh. "material girl hallelujah" is an exploration of “concepts that are opposing” as well as Hernández’s creative process and the different emotions that she experiences while in her artistic element.

For the duration of the film's three minutes and 46 seconds, Hernández is the only figure onscreen. She faces the camera and contorts her body into various positions, accompanied by distorted audio of her family singing a hymn.

“I spend the first half of the film really engaging with my flesh, engaging with the outer contours of my form, whereas I feel like the second half of the film is much more a glimpse into what’s going on internally, imperfectly — what my brain synapses look like when they’re firing on all cylinders,” Hernández said.

When the festival sent Hernández an email informing her of her acceptance into the festival, she almost didn’t open it. She’d already received numerous rejection letters from similar organizations. A day later, she received a second email, this one congratulating her on her win.

Both the film and its submission to the festival were requirements for Benjamin Rosenthal’s Video and Time-Based Media Class. Rosenthal encourages his students to take risks by offering their work up for critique from peers and professionals alike.

“The course is an intense and rigorous examination in the studio of the capabilities of these tools, the intersection of these tools with the interests of the individual artist and the relationship between the history/theory of the field and the student artist’s place as part of that trajectory,” Rosenthal said.

The film’s music is also one of Hernández’s creations, recorded when she attended a family reunion last year in a rural campground located in Alleghany County, Va. called Big Ridge. There’s a church in the area that was built by her great-grandfather, who worked as a preacher in the Appalachian region. When she and her family visited the church, they started to sing—not unusual for them, according to Hernández.

“I thought it was a really rich recording,” she said. “When I listened to it again, it brought up all these memories and this ambience, and I thought it was really special.”

Hernández might not have made the film at all had she not experienced a “watershed moment” after receiving her first degree. She was 25 years old and working as an art model in France, spending 30 hours a week sitting in front of artists, which gave her a chance to “absorb and reflect” on her life.

“It just became pretty apparent to me that my future resided in the arts, so it was just up to me to apply myself and to see in what capacity that would be the best,” she said.

From there, Hernández applied and was accepted into the University’s School of the Arts. She is set to graduate this spring and is currently looking into doctoral programs for studio art.

“I really admire female artists especially that are unbounded by material, that they seem to just obsessively jump from material to material to material and exhaust it completely,” Hernández said. “I really hope that that’s the type of creative I am in ten years, and I really hope that I wake up and look back and just have this moment of work in my wake that’s interesting and engaging with other young women especially.”

— Edited by Matt Clough

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