Students ask ‘Who am I?’ in their art
By Taryn PlumbGLOBE CORRESPONDENT DECEMBER 07, 2014
Highlighter-bright rays of color streamed through the sky over charcoal-gray mountains. Dark cutouts of birds wheeled against that sky, along with gray-and-white depictions of the flapping flags of the United States, United Kingdom, and Scotland.
At center, a young man stood in profile, flanked on either side by featureless, carbon-copy silhouettes of himself.
This was Chelmsford 16-year-old Matt Piper’s artistic answer to the query, “Who am I?”
The question was posed to hundreds of students from schools throughout the region — including Lynn, Acton, Waltham, Lowell, Ashland, Hopkinton, Lexington, Malden, and Swampscott — as part of an international art project with an ultimately celestial purpose.
“I don’t think what makes you you is your body,” the Chelmsford High School junior said of his piece, “but rather the people who have come before you, and places that you’ve been and experiences that you’ve had.”
Such is the purpose of the Dream Rocket Project: to encourage young people to look in and outside of themselves and turn their ideals, experiences, and hopes for the future into art. An initiative of the International Fiber Collaborative, the project will take thousands of collected works from around the world and stitch them together into a momentous 32,000-square-foot piece that will then be wrapped around a replica of NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The exhibition is planned for May 1 through June 30.
More than 900 students from around the state contributed pieces addressing the theme “Who Am I? Personal Connections to Immigration or Migration.” They will be amassed with more than 8,000 other pieces from 46 states and 17 countries and swathed around the spacecraft, which is modeled on those that launched dozens of astronauts to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
“I thought it was pretty cool, because it will be taking all these different backgrounds and putting it into one,” said 15-year-old Kenneth Padilla-Salguero, a 10th-grader at Waltham High School. Through the process, he said, he learned that “we’re all different, but we are the same in some way. We all go through the same stuff.”
More than 50 students from his school used 12-inch-by-12-inch linen panels to create abstract self-portraits alongside images depicting their heritage, interests, and career goals.
“Some of them really scraped,’’ said art specialist Mary Coughlan, who led the project. “It was self-examination. It was hard for them to put this stuff down.”
In Padilla-Salguero’s reflective piece, he portrays only the upper part of his face, from the bridge of the nose up, before a background of a partial Guatemalan flag (his ethnicity), a soccer ball (his passion), and a stethoscope and the caduceus medical symbol (his career ambition).
His classmate Tiffany Nguyen depicted herself from the nose down, notes drifting out of her mouth to illustrate her love of music, a suitcase for her interest in traveling, and a nod to her background with a hint of the Vietnamese flag.
“When I started out, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, [but] as I thought more about where I came from and where I am now, I could see more what my future could be like,” said the 15-year-old 10th-grader, who is contemplating a career as either a pediatrician or a pharmacist.
Piper had a similar experience when he sat down with pen to paper.
“It’s harder to put into a picture who you are as a person than it seems,” said the teenager, who has aspirations to become an architect. He said he typically focuses on drawing still-lifes, such as a recent piece showing work boots that seem like they have just been thrown off after a long day.
“It was a really good experience for developing artistic inquiry,” he said of the Dream Rocket Project. “I had to actually think about what I wanted to do and what I wanted to represent, rather than just drawing something based on something.”
His 2-foot-by-2-foot contribution depicts his heritage with the willowy-drawn American, Scottish, and United Kingdom flags, and mountains that “resemble my favorite place on earth,” his grandparents’ lake house on Pleasant Pond, Maine, where he said he has his “most patriotic childhood memories.”
Ultimately, “what makes you a person is not anything material,” he said. “I’ve never really had to think about that before.”
Students at Luther Conant elementary school in Acton took a rather different approach; 22 youngsters in a third-grade class embroidered circular designs based on the flags of their heritage.
For Curtis Ying, 8, that translated to yellow stars set against a red felt background in honor of the Chinese flag.
“I thought it was very creative,” he said. “I really like art. It’s basically what I usually do at home.”
Although he called needlework a new experience, “It turned out pretty good,” he said. “I learn fast.”
Similarly, at the ethnically diverse E.J. Harrington Elementary School in Lynn, students analyzed their lives and families and how and why they came to live in the United States. Their consensus: more freedom, a better education, more job opportunities, and a wish to join family members already living here, according to art teacher Mary Parks.
They then chose images to represent the words “immigration’’ and “migration’’ in their artwork; many students created airplanes, ships, and trains to show how they came to the States, while others used the sun to represent the warm climate of their native country. Others chose to include the earth, which, as Parks explained, “symbolizes the many different cultures and countries of our students.”
Students from the E.J. Harrington Elementary School in Lynn hold artwork for The Dream Rocket Project. From left to right: George Gomez, Nnenna Nwoke, Irma Rasidovic, Jadalize Guzman, Fatima Sierra, Britney Aguilar, Lydia Splaine, and Timothy Powell.
Overall, as Conant visual arts specialist Melissa Hayes noted, collaboration – what she called a “21st-century skill” – was one key takeaway of the project.
When students grow up, “they will have to work collaboratively in almost every workplace they will encounter,” she said. “Giving students experience, and practice working collaboratively, is so important.”
Piper’s teacher at Chelmsford High, Terry Karangioze, agreed. She said she has long emphasized participation in real-world art projects, including at assisted-living programs, hospitals, libraries, and with larger nonprofits.
“They encourage my students to have a sense of purpose, accomplishment, pride, and meaning in their lives,” she said.