In preparation for this year's Black History Month Fair, Middle and Upper School art teacher Diane Holmberg has turned her classrooms into production studios that have given students the chance to explore African-American tradition, identity themes, and symbolism.
In Upper School, students have taken inspiration from American artist Lorna Simpson, who is most famous for her Stereo Styles collage, which look at the way identity is externally projected. The ipiece displays 10 images of an African-American woman in different hairstyles with one-word descriptions, such as "ageless," "magnetic," and "sweet."
"I just love how she was embracing the beauty of this human being, and expressing her essence through a unique physical trait," said Carter Maltby '20. Carter sought to duplicate the feeling of the art in her own piece, using images of two friends who she said radiate the same kind of energy. The unique identifier in both pieces is the subject's hair - and the word Carter used for her descriptor is "angelic."
"Hair is used as personal expression of who someone is, and can also be reflective of culture," Carter said. "In a time where hair and hairstyles - particularly in African-American culture - has continued to be a topic of discussion, I love how we are able to just normalize it through art, and embrace the essence of who someone is."
Middle Schoolers, meanwhile, have been studying the traditions of the kente cloth, which originates from the Ashanti tribes of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. The Ashanti used to (and still do) hand weave these bright multicolored clothes for kings and noblemen, and for this week's fair, sixth and seventh graders have been learning about the symbols and patterns woven among them.
"We wear kente stoles at our commencement ceremony, as do other schools throughout the territory," Ms. Holmberg said. "But it's not often that we learn about their importance and that's why we jumped at the chance to do this project for the fair's art gallery. We're excited to start to talk more about it in class and how those traditional symbols and meanings - even colors - are represented locally, symbolizing families, origins, and heritage."