Synesthesia at UMSL gallery

A St. Louis native, Sarah Weinman writes a weekly visual arts blog for the Light (

By Sarah Weinman

If you’ve heard of the neurological disorder synesthesia, you might wonder how well an artist could portray it in an exhibition.  Photographer Rebecca Haas comes pretty close in her show Synesthesia at Gallery VISIO on the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus.  According to, synesthesia is “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualization of a certain color.”  Haas explores this disorder through “portraits of women that include an emphasis on movement, color and texture.”  The exhibition’s theme was influenced by Haas’ work with children and adults who had autism or developmental disabilities.

Haas created five series of portraits each with a different dominant color (blue, pink, gray, black, and red).  A different model is featured in each series.  The artist literally pushes the boundaries of the images through her use of colored picture frames.  And during the opening reception the food was color-coordinated with the photographs. 

New Mt. Sinai Cemetery advertisement

A quick note about the photographs’ titles: most are cryptic.  Some refer to the camera settings which Haas used to capture the image (450-400nm); other titles reference sugar molecules (C12H22O).

I began to understand how synesthesia works when I looked at the series of five pink photographs, which all feature cotton candy.  In the image titled 450-400nm, the model wears pink from head to toe (dress, wig, makeup, ribbons, and nail polish) and sits on a pile of the pink sweets.  Cotton candy clouds fill the pink sky.  After viewing the images, I began to associate the color pink with the wispy, sugary taste of cotton candy.

The red series is my favorite, perhaps because of the importance of texture.  The frames on these portraits are the most ornate in the show and the model, decked out in red, poses against a background of shiny artificial red roses.  The frames and background emphasize texture and color as part of the experience of synesthesia: there’s a strong, almost physical connection between the color red and the stiff, prickly fake roses in these images.

Synesthesia is on view through Nov. 14 in Gallery VISIO, found on the first floor of the Millennium Student Center.  UMSL is located at One University Blvd. in Normandy and can be accessed via either Natural Bridge Road or Florissant Road.  Gallery hours are Monday – Thursday, 10:00am – 4:00pm.  For more information, call 314-516-7922 or visit