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Following Her Passion

Stills by Yana Sakellion

Stills from digital short The Dress by Yana Sakellion

As a child growing up in Uzbekistan, graphic design professor Yana Sakellion was surrounded by a family of artists. Her grandmother is a pianist and her grandfather, a physicist, pursued painting as a hobby. Her family would often give her a notebook and crayons and tell her to express herself.

"For me, art was just a natural part of life," says Sakellion. "I painted, I drew, I always did creative writing."

In her late teens, Sakellion's family moved to the United States. She pursued a short-lived career in accounting at the encouragement of her family, but art continued to be her passion.

One day, Sakellion expressed her frustration at working in the financial sector to a friend, who then told her about digital art, an up-and-coming field at the time. Sakellion didn't know anything about digital art or graphic design, but she applied to a design program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. It was there that she learned to hone her artistic passions into design projects.

After receiving a degree from UMBC, Sakellion pursued a master's from the Rhode Island School of Design. She then moved back to the Baltimore area to do some work for the Johns Hopkins University digital media center and to teach as an adjunct professor at Towson University and UMBC.

The fall semester has been Sakellion's first at American University, and she is teaching two courses: Introduction to Typography and Computer Literacy for Design. She says she was drawn to the school because of its opportunities for interdisciplinary education—opportunities that are often unavailable at an art school. As an artist who is inspired by an array of disciplines herself—her influences span from architecture and Japanese literature to the works of designers and visual artists—Sakellion understands the necessity for students to study multiple disciplines.

"I think the fact that my [influences] come from so many disciplines has to do with migrating and trying to draw connections from various sources and package them into a cohesive picture," says Sakellion. "Making those connections from various sources helps me see whatever I'm currently working on more clearly."

The mediums Sakellion uses are as varied as her influences. In addition to graphic design work, as well as painting, writing, and drawing, she has done video, manufacturing, and animation. Sakellion is particularly interested in interactive art, which blurs the sharp line between design and art that people often construct in their minds. For instance, one of her recent installations at the digital media center at Johns Hopkins University incorporated video, accelerometer sensors attached to a stationary bike, and a projector.

"Artwork is often perceived as an object of admiration, while design is believed to be functional and transparent," says Sakellion. "My goal is to emphasize the points of connection between the two, to create conditions that explore new modes of communication and lead to experiences outside of our usual expectations."