After Marissa Brown toured what she refers to as “the most mesmerizing campus in Mississippi,” she left with a promise of a work study job from then head football coach Aaron Pelch and thoughts of a career in journalism. Now, as a 2020 graduate in studio art, Brown is set to begin graduate school in Boston as she works to build a career as an artist.
“My favorite class at Millsaps was performance art, and when I selected that class my sophomore year, I didn’t know that I would bloom into the artist I am today,” said Brown. “I not only found my established medium in this class, but I found a performance mentor, and discovered my favorite contemporary artist and the real Marissa.”
Coming to Millsaps from Olive Branch and deciding to study art opened an entirely new world to Brown, one in which she found herself undergoing what she calls a “baptism by fire along with safety quizzes.” Kristen Tordella-Williams, assistant professor of studio art, was instrumental in Brown’s baptism.
“Kristen was a constant motivator through each project I wanted to try, and always pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone because challenges can’t be conquered when we are comfortable,” Brown recalls. “I have had the most conceptual epiphanies and artistic breakthroughs because of that advice.”
These epiphanies and breakthroughs were on full display in what Brown says were her most impactful moments at Millsaps. “In my junior year, I poured two buckets of flour onto my head at Sneaky Beans (a local coffee shop) during the junior art exhibition titled ‘Eclectic Perspectives,’” she said. Her performance entitled “Overlay” was inspired by her brother’s experience of being arrested on his last day of school.
“Watching my brother fall into the school-to-prison pipeline was heart-wrenching, and that experience inspired a body of work that was performance-based and communicates the level of conformity that African American students try to reach in order to be accepted by a society that hasn’t always been supportive of their presence in a school setting.” Brown not only survived her baptism by fire, but she was made stronger by it. Her next step is a two-year graduate program at Boston University, where she will further her focus on sculpture and performance art. “After enduring four years of the most rigorous and enriching education I’ve ever experienced at Millsaps, I know nothing can stop me when I make it to Boston University.”