GVSU alumna’s photography transports China to Grand Rapids

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Megan Lendman and Ryan Grabijas, study abroad peer advisors at the Padnos International Center.

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Megan Lendman and Ryan Grabijas, study abroad peer advisors at the Padnos International Center.

Moriah Gilbert

Megan Lendman’s sense of adventure, creativity and desire to find out what it means to be human led her to create an exhibit called “China: The Life of a Civilian.” The exhibit will be on display at the Blue Wall Gallery in the Grand Valley State University Richard M. DeVos Center from Jan. 5 to April 25.

Lendman recently graduated from GVSU with a photography major and a Chinese language minor. While attending GVSU, she sought out opportunities through the Padnos International Center to travel to Kunming, China.

“With the exhibition, I wanted my viewers to see the beautiful colors of clothing and exotic foods the Chinese choose to eat,” Lendman said. “I invited my audience to discover the similarities in the seemingly obvious differences between our two cultures.”

Shortly after proposing a potential gallery, she won the Study Abroad Photography Scholarship from the Padnos International Center to help finance her expedition.

In the past, the exhibition decorated the walls of the Red Wall Gallery in Lake Ontario Hall, located on the GVSU Allendale Campus. Its relocation to the Richard M. DeVos Center will allow more GVSU students, faculty and staff members to witness Lendman’s journey throughout China.

Instead of Beijing or Shanghai, Lendman chose to highlight Kunming, a large city located in the Yunnan Province. Her photographic expedition challenged her Chinese language skills by eating, speaking and even dancing with them.

“People have the same desires,” she said. “We cook, go to school, raise children and have our own vices.”

When she returned with her images, she worked with many GVSU staff members to finalize her project. She presented her images back to the art gallery support and received resounding happiness and excitement from the staff.

“The Padnos International Center hosted a reception for me when the work was hung in the Red Wall Gallery, and I bet I was literally glowing,” she said.

In addition, she won the Alexander Calder Honors Scholarship and earned a permanent spot in GVSU’s art collection, which can be hung whenever and wherever on campus.

“My mark has been made on GVSU, and I feel like my cultural legacy will live on,” Lendman said.

Studying abroad gave this GVSU alumna rare and unusual opportunities to use her photography skills to understand different cultures, Lendman said.

“I can look back at the images I captured and begin to make sense of what I saw,” she said. “I see myself as a liaison because I like analyzing my own images, framing them and putting them on showcase for the world.”

What she cherished most about traveling was learning the real quality of independence, especially when she was one person in 50 who spoke English fluently.

“Independence is not easy, nor is it always fun, but it’s rewarding, hopeful and skill building,” she said.

Although it was not an easy journey, Lendman encourages anyone to pursue similar opportunities.

“I will seek to bring people of varying backgrounds together in a way that allows them to better understand themselves and the other,” she said. “I will always leave all the opportunities open and pave my path as it comes my way.”