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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

‘Where the Roots Rise’ Reflects Connection of Humanity to Natural Life

Latest UM Museum exhibit showcases creative photographs from alumna Jaime Aelavanthara

‘Mother Moth,’ a photograph by Jaime Aelavanthara, is among many of her pieces in the ‘Where the Roots Rise’ exhibit at University Museum.

‘Mother Moth,’ a photograph by Jaime Aelavanthara, is among many of her pieces in the ‘Where the Roots Rise’ exhibit at University Museum. Submitted photo


The distance between humanity and nature is much smaller than we realize, and the latest exhibit at the University of Mississippi Museum serves as a reminder of that perception.

“Where the Roots Rise” by photographer Jaime Aelavanthara is a series of photographs that have undergone photochemical blueprinting known as the cyanotype process. The photographs are set in natural areas of life, death, growth and decay in the natural landscapes of several Southern states.

“Experiences outdoors lend me an awe-filled view on the world, which is a feeling I am interested in the viewer experiencing when they see the exhibition,” she said. “As children, we tend to see the world as a magical place, an outlook that is often lost in adulthood.”

Aelavanthara’s work chronicles the relationship of a woman and her natural environment. The cyanotype process transforms the colorful landscapes and subjects of the photos into patterns and textures in the images. Her addition of tea staining dulls the blueness of the images, adding warmth.

The combination of these processes with the printing on Japanese Okawara paper, which is vulnerable to tears and wrinkles, displays the deterioration and impermanence of nature.

The exhibit opens to the public today (July 24) in the museum’s Lower Skipwith Gallery, in conjunction with the Oxford Arts Crawl. It will be available for viewing through Dec. 1.

Aelavanthara, an Ole Miss alumnus, earned her bachelor’s degree in imaging arts in 2011. She grew up in rural Mississippi, which inspired her creative work and illustrates the connection she formed with nature.

From 2015 to 2017, she was an instructor of art in the UM Department of Art and Art History. Aelavanthara is an assistant professor of art and design at the University of Tampa.

The fine art photographer specializes in alternative photographic processes, which she learned at UM.

“The photographs capture a sense of place while exploring how we are all connected – plants, animals, humans,” she said. “A lot of the photographs are self-portraits, constructed with various found objects collected from nature. I am contemplating metaphor and how I can give new life to an ordinary object we might encounter in the everyday: a turtle shell, plant life, an animal bone.

“Ultimately, I’m interested in the human condition and what it is that connects us. There is also an element of myth and a lyrical nature to the photographs, an influence I attribute to the vibrant literary community of Oxford and Ole Miss.”

Her work has been exhibited around the country at venues including the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson. This exhibit showcases work that has never been previously displayed.

“It is rewarding to know I’m showing work at the place where it all started, remembering the quality experience I had in the art department at Ole Miss and the late nights spent in the darkroom or meandering Meek Hall,” she said.

“The University Museum is thrilled to welcome back to Oxford Jaime Aelavanthara, whose ethereal photography in ‘Where the Roots Rise’ consists of exquisite tea-stained cyanotypes, set in the swamps and woods of Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida,” said Robert Saarnio, the museum’s director.

“Our University Museum is in a period of celebration and exploration of the imaging arts, whether from our permanent collection or the work of a notably experimental and nationally emerging photographer such as Ms. Aelavanthara. We welcome our campus and regional community to experience this innovative assemblage of photographic prints.”

The museum will host Aelavanthara for an artist talk at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 22. An opening reception of the exhibit and an artist-led gallery walkthrough is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 23.