Elementary Internship Rotation: Done!

Due to privacy concerns and being focused on my elementary teaching internship, I haven’t posted anything on my website in a few months. However, since the first phase of that experience is done, I thought it would be a great time to share what I’ve learned.

This last few months I’ve been teaching at grades Pre-K through 5th grade at a Title 1 elementary school in Baltimore City. It’s been very challenging to navigate the variety of student needs, ages, and abilities while also creating new units, basically from scratch. My university requires a lot of lesson and unit writing and planning, which has been incredibly helpful to ground my teaching practice, but also very time consuming. It has also been time well spent because unlike other subject area, Baltimore City does not have a required curriculum to teach. We have National Visual Arts Standards that all of my lessons need to be based around, but over all these standards are very flexible. They can include almost any artist and any medium, as well all interdisciplinary connections. The result has been some really creative and meaningful units that are unique to my students, their interests, and their talents. Going forward, especially in my first year of teaching, I will still take the time to write out units in-depth so I can create and build a wide and deep variety of lessons for all my future years of teaching. Here are a few images of a few of my units. If you are interest in getting a copy of the unit, the PowerPoint presentation for each unit, and/or any handouts associated with the the art, please leave a comment or contact me!

Kindergarten: Through experimentation, build skills in various media and approaches to artmaking. Students played to build with literacy skills through collage, video, and collaborative letter play. ( VA:Cr2.1.Ka)
1st grade: Students explored pattern and color Kente cloth Paper weaving and circular weaving, understanding that people from different places and times have made art for a variety of reasons (NVAS:Cn11.1.1a)
2nd grade: After looking at African American Abstract Artists, Alma Thomas, and describing aethetic characters of her art, students created their own abstract art describe aesthetic characteristics of their natural world (VA:Re.7.1.2a)
3rd grade: During the Black Lives Matter Week of Action, students examined restorative justice, celebrated diverse families, engaged in youth activism and made a family story quilt inspired by Faith Ringold. (VA:Cn10.1.4a Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.)
4th grade: While studying the American Revolutionary history, students focusing on the Iroquois art of beadwork and basket weaving to create their own original embroidery. (VA:Cn10.1.4a Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.)
5th grade: Looking at the art of Vasarely, Julio Le Parc, and Jesus Rafael Soto, students learned about the science behind optical illusions to create their own optical artworks. (VA:Cn10.1.5a -Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through artmaking.)

In building units, I think about alternate or marginalized perspectives, what my students would be interested in learning, how the unit can help them build life-long skills they can take with them into the real world, and how their abilities, cultural and community assets, and prior knowledge all contribute to the unit. Tailoring the units to my students is a lot of work but it is worth it: having alternate choices and options for students with IEPs to having directions and vocabulary translated into Spanish and English, ensures that I am reaching every student. And for those early finishers? Having a safety valve is a must!

Having stated my strength in lesson and unit planning, one challenge that I need to work on is classroom management. Children really benefit from having structure, even in an art classroom. Being essentially a guest teacher in my mentor teacher’s classroom, I was hesitant at first to implement my own classroom management system. I wish I would have unrolled it earlier in my teaching experience, because once I did I saw a noticeable difference in student work, focus, and learning. Once I have my own classroom it will be different, but because what I learned:

So many times….
  1. In a natural way, start the year or experience with expectations, classroom rules and agreements, routines, and rewards. If something doesn’t work, it’s never too late to change the system and re-invent it so it works. Continually check-in with the class about the rules and guidelines, and if possible, I really encourage you to create the rules and expectations with the students so they have agency in the classroom! This can be done at an elementary level, but I found more success in the older grades like 4th and 5th.

    As a side note to this point: create a routine around students cleaning the art room. I lost track of how many crayons, pencils, markers, erasers, and pieces of paper I had to pick up off the ground or how many hours I spent sweeping and cleaning tables. With intense teacher schedules, often once class leaves and then the next class immediately enters the room without any time for you to clean even if you want to! Make it a point to always have enough time to clean-up, even if it means not getting through the entire lesson…
  2. Unassigned seating is a privilege! Some students need preferential seating, while other students just done work well by sitting next to each other. Having assigned seating takes all of the behavior and focus issues out of the equation by having assigned seating. Also, it can become a treat and/or incentive for classes at the end the week to get to sit next to their friends.
  3. Have a seating area where students can go to cool-off. Conflicts happen. Providing a safe place for students to sit and take a self-determined time out is a great way to encourage students to manage their own behavior. Having this spot be different than a “time-out” corner for punishment is important too because the safe place needs to a place they want to go.

Shout out to my mentor who I will leave unnamed, but they were incredibly receptive to my ideas, very kind in answering all of my questions, and very generous in giving me rides to and from school everyday! I couldn’t have done it without them. ❤

Looking ahead, because of the Corona virus pandemic, all the public schools in Maryland are closed at least until March 30th as a preventative measure. However, I still have to complete my secondary education experience before graduating. I was schedule to teach art in a Title 1 high school in Baltimore City but everything is very uncertain at this time. We will see what happens and I’ll let you know! Thanks for reading! ❤


This past semester I taught an arts-integration Spanish language unit at Baltimore City College. It was an incredible experience, and I will likely detail it more in a later blog post. One of the core objectives of the unit was to examine the art and activism of Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated artists of our generation. So when I got a chance over the winter holiday to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art’s exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, on show until Jan 19, 2020, I was thrilled to finally get a chance to see her artwork in person!

At the entrance of the exhibit, there is a traditional Dios de Los Muertos altar where people can pay their respects to Frida, but also write down the names of their loved ones on cards and place it in the front.

Frida Kahlo (b. July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Ciudad México) was a Mexican, queer, gender-bending feminist, Marxist, antifacist, female artist. Her radical politics, complicated love life, and fierce personality coalesced into artwork that is profoundly inspiring. You may know, but just to review –

  • At 6 years old she contracted polio which kept her bedridden for 9 months
  • At 18 years old she was in tragic bus accident; a steal handrail impaled her thru the hip, breaking her back in three places, and fracturing her hip. This left her with severe pain and health issues throughout her life.
  • She married the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, at 22 years old. He was 20 years older than her. Their marriage was fraught with infidelity.
  • She lived in the US for 3 years, in which time she learned first hand and criticized the oppressive nature of American capitalism and imperialism.
  • She was an activist for women, indigenous people, the handicapped, and workers her entire life, including up until her death. For example, In 1954, three years before she died, she attended a communist protest agains the American government intervention in Guatemala.

In all of her works, she heavily uses symbolism to convey meaning, often implementing symbols that reflect her Mexican, indigenous, and European ancestry. Her work reveals her personal, intimate, and vulnerable experience as a woman that suffered so much pain and resiliency. I loved this exhibit because, in addition to seeing the work up close first-hand, they included so many photos of the artist working,

Frida Kahlo was also revolutionary by the way she skillfully took a long-accepted art genre, self-portraiture, and transmuted standards of beauty to talk about identity. For example, ake for example, the work below, Self-Portrait with Red and Gold Dress, 1941. She depicts herself with red lipstick, rouged cheeks, and intricately braided hair, but also accentuates her unibrow and mustache. She constantly played with gender-norms, who once wrote, “Of the opposite sex, I have the mustache, and in general the face.” Her attention to detail is so beautiful that it pulls you into the painting, only to be met with her unapologetic and challenging gaze. Fierce!

The exhibition was awesome! I am so grateful I got to see some of her work in person. While almost three-fourths of her paintings were self-portraits, she expressed her self through her clothing and the symbols she chose to include in the composition. Flora and fauna feature prominently in her work, like the work below, Self-Portrait with Monkeys. She kept monkeys as pets in her home and often described them as “surrogates for maternal love.” The vulnerabilities she shows in other works, like Self-Portrait with Braid and the Wounded Table, reveal her anxiety about WWII, her health-struggles, the pain of Diego’s adultery with Frida’s sister, and her grief with her father’s death.

Also in preparation for the exhibit, my family and I watched the 2002 bioflick produced by and starting Salma Hayeck called Frida. It is a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to her life; it will also help you appreciate Frida’s life and work more. Here is trailer. Thanks for reading! ❤

New Work: “Year of Joy”

Last year my god-sister, Courtney, had a baby, and her mother commissioned me to paint a portrait to celebrate the first year of Courtney’s motherhood. I had several meetings with Courtney to discuss what she wanted in terms of the mood, colors, message, theme, poses of the figures, etc. We both wanted it to successfully communicate her new family’s joy, love of one another, and love of music. My ART 325 oil painting class helped me solidify and process these ideas with collage. The resulting final composition came from using photos from Courtney’s trip from Italy last summer that reflect her family’s Italian heritage, and her and her husband’s operatic singing practice. Here are some photos of the process:

Instead of using a pre-stretch canvas, I stretched the canvas myself so I could create a unique landscape composition. The color choice reflects the Italian summer sunrise which is a very warm yellow, and which also conveniently communicates affection and timelessness. The panoramic and surrealist use of stretched space supports this sense of timelessness and further enhances a feeling of endless possibilities. This past year, the baby had her first dip in the ocean, which is represented in blue surf in the bottom left of the painting.

The painting process is just as important as the final work: I chose to do the the underpainting in the color “Terre Verte” so as to contrast with the warm orange and bright panthalo blue in the sea and sky. This is a favorite approach among landscape painters: rather than selecting the dominant color for the underpainting, in this case orange, the painter intentionally choose one that contrasts. The idea is that the underlying green can react with subsequent layers of orange and blue, adding vibration and color contrast.

If you or anyone else you know may want a commission, let me know! It’s a great opportunity to have a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that you or your loved one will have for years to come…

Visual Research Journal # 45 – 48

This has been a great semester in my painting class! I discovered so many artists through creating this journal. As I was looking through my next and last set of four artists, I realized that there are some big names I hear referenced a lot but that I am not actually familiar.

Jean- Michel Basquiat. Six Crimee, 1982. Acrylic and oil paintstick on masonite. 72 × 144 in

Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988) was a poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York, who honed his signature painting style of obsessive scribbling, symbols and diagrams, and mask-and-skull imagery by the time he was 20. “I don’t think about art while I work,” he once said. “I think about life.” I like his visceral and bold approach to layering and collage, his revelation that great art is simply a profound investigation of life.

Robert Rauschenberg. Canyon, 1959. Combine: oil, pencil, paper, fabric, metal, cardboard box, printed paper, printed reproductions, photograph, wood, paint tube, and mirror on canvas with oil on bald eagle, string, and pillow. 81 3/4 × 70 × 24 in

Robert Rauschenberg rejected the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists, invented of techniques using unconventional art materials ranging from dirt and house paint to umbrellas and car tires. Pictured here are his first three-dimensional collage paintings—he called them Combines—in which he incorporated discarded materials and mundane objects to explore the intersection of art and life. His later artwork includes painting, fabric collage, sculptural components made from cardboard and scrap metal, as well as a variety of image transfer and printing methods.

Robert Motherwell. Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 163, 1979-1982. Acrylic and Conte crayon on canvas. 23 3/10 × 29 3/10 in

Robert Motherwell is considered one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painter and one of the leading writers, theorists, and advocates of the New York School. He forged close friendships with the European Surrealists and other intellectuals over his interests in poetry and philosophy, and as such served as a vital link between the pre-war avant-garde in Europe and its post-war counterpart in New York. “It’s not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous,” Motherwell said. “It’s more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.” Again, it seems that there the creative process demands a mindfulness and presence, a letting go to the unfolding process of art making – a flow state perhaps. Motherwell seems to have really bridged the gap by critically analyzing the work and thus elevating it in a different light.

Cy Twombly. 1986, 1986. Offset lithograph. 29 1/2 × 22 in

Cy Twombly‘s expressive drips and active, scribbled, and scratched lines in his paintings were his hallmark. “My line is childlike but not childish,” he once said. “It is very difficult to fake…to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.” His work was sometimes dismissed as “high-art graffiti,” but he also produced sculptures made of found objects, clay, and plaster, painted white to suggest an affinity to Classicism. Again, I don’t think young children, before the age of 7 or 8, judge their lines so critically and harshly as we eventually are socially conditioned to do. The immediacy of the feeling and emotion in the act of creation is meant to transport the viewer.

Visual Research Journal #41 – 44

I was thinking from my last post how I would like to find artists who create small details in oil paint. I know it is possible – I have seen it – and maybe if I study those artists I can learn more about their process. All of these artists I found through instagram.

Joel Rea. Stages, 2017, Oil on canvas, 92 x 122cm.

Joel Rea is a highly acclaimed and multi award-winning artist known for his surreal, allegorical oil paintings. His paintings are a blend of hyperrealism, photorealism and virtuosic Renaissance realism. His themes include social awareness, personal introspection the animal kingdom, turmoil of human inner consciousness and our species’ unwavering desire to survive. His frequent include self-portraits; tigers; dogs; sun rays coming through clouds; and destructive waves. One reason he might be able to paint with so much detail is that he ends up practicing painting the same thing: animals, waves, etc. This is likely a natural evolution through creating series of artworks.

Colorful lilies. Oil on Cardboard (15.8×11.8×0.8 in)

This next artist caught my eye as I was scrolling – Alena Shymchonak. She does a lot of beach paintings, but this one is of lillies. I like her use of impasto (thick paint application), strong vertical and horizontal lines of color, pulling and scuffling, and the balanced composition.

Ali-A-Beigi has serious skill. He founded Beigi Academy Of Art in 2001, now one of the most prestigious and eminent art classes in Tehran, which is authorized by Ministry of culture in Iran. He teaches hyper-realist portraiture like the image above. Check out one of his video tutorials here.

In 2000 Lynn Boggess decided to take a break from the studio and he went outside to paint some nature studies. On a whim, he took a cement trowel that was on a table near the basement door, which when used to apply paint, allowed for an immediacy that a brush could not. Because the tool covers large areas quickly, he is able to accurately record a specific time and place. Additionally, the thick paint behaved almost as a sculptural medium, giving the paintings a heightened physical presence. I appreciate this technique – not all detail is from outlines or single strokes of thin paint, but also includes capturing the sense of place or mood in what you are trying to represent, through color, form, medium, etc., and not just line.

Visual Research Journal #37 – 40

Time to reflect on more artists! I am currently studying for the Praxis 2 Art and Content exam, which will test my knowledge of art terms, techniques, history, and analysis. There is a writing segment and I will have to not only write about my own work, but also the work of other artists. This research journal exercise has been helping me all semester!

Richard Serra (b. 1938 in San Francisco). He studied at Berkeley, Yale, and in Florence funded by a Fulbright grant. One of my all time favorite works by him is his video art, “Television Delivers the People” (1973) which you can watch here.

Narrated by Carlota Fay Schoolman and at just under seven minutes, it was broadcasted to the public during an area when television was just starting to become mainstream and accepted enough to subliminally market and coerce the public viewers. Using the format of a television teleprompter, its scrolling critique criticizes not only television but the mass media conglomerates that seek to benefit from brainwashing and manipulating the public, say that mass media and pop culture are tactics for social control. 

DIS. A Good Crisis. 2018. Courtesy of DIS

While we’re in the realm of art video, the next one is by DIS, a New York-based collective consisting of Lauren Boyle, Solomon Chase, Marco Roso, and David Toroa, which created a series on the wide-reaching impact of the 2008 financial crisis. The work was shown in and commissioned by the Baltimore Museum of Art and contemplates the future of money, income inequality, and the uncertain economic prospects of Millennials. It’s super sassy and informative. I couldn’t help watching all three of the videos as they are highly entertaining, creative, and eloquently deconstructs the manufactured economic crisis and its fallout.

Elizabeth Talford Scott. Plantation. 1980. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Collectors Circle Fund for Art by African Americans, Baltimore Appliqué Society Fund, and purchased as the gift of the Joshua Johnson Council, and Mr. and Mrs. Irvin Greif, Jr., Lutherville, Maryland, BMA 2012.226. © Estate of Elizabeth Talford Scott

Stepping away from propaganda – another exhibit I saw while at the BMA was Hitching Their Dreams to Untamed Stars that featured the works of Joyce J. Scott & Elizabeth Talford Scott. Their quilt work is detailed and complex, drawing upon mythology and creation stories, themes of life and death, mother and daughterhood, and liberation.

Grace Hartigan. Red Bowl. 1953.

The last work is also a piece at the Baltimore Musuem of Art. Grace Haritgan was an American woman modernist painter who developed a bold, semi-abstract style to capture the garish jumble of excitement of the market district of New York’s lower East Side where she lived. I have a tendency to strive for perfection in my art – especially small details – and this is much more difficult in oil paint (in my opinion / experience / lack of experience.) Her work is currently being featured in an exhibition that specifically celebrates women modernists, and is on show until July 5, 2019.

Visual Research Journal #33 -36

I recently went to the Baltimore Museum of Art’s exhibition, Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, which is on view until this January 19, 2020. I highly recommend you go! There are over 28 artists featured, and here are just a few artists that I liked.

Mark Bradford, “My Grandmother Felt the Color” (2016).

Mark Bradford. He uses collage and decollage taking imagery, text, materials and experiences from his home in South Los Angeles. This work has been described as a type of “sacred geometry” that visual represents and celebrates his grandmother’s divine wisdom.

Jack Whitten “Zen Master” (1968). The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection. © Estate of Jack Whitten

Jack Whitten. I like this piece because it actually reminds me of two of my classmates active brushstrokes. Though influenced by Willem de Kooning, whom he knew, Whitten defined his own dynamic brand of hallucinatory abstract painting. Active in the 60s, his early juxtapose abstraction with surreal figurative imagery.

Charles Gaines, “Numbers and Trees: Central Park Series I: Tree #9, Henry” 2016.

Charles Gaines. It’s fascinating how many visual artists are influenced by Buddhism, meditation, and Buddhist art, which relies heavily upon a grid system. In an interview on Artforum, he says:

“Through reading—first Henri Focillon’s The Life of Forms in Art and then volumes on Tantric and Buddhist art—I discovered art practices in the world beyond this. I wanted to deal with ideas intellectually and rationally, but from my own perspective as a Westerner. So I looked for tropes, like mathematics, that do not privilege the creative unconscious…. The ego is limiting; we gravitate toward things we know and can’t imagine things we don’t know. Through “systems” I could go where the imagination couldn’t and bring things that otherwise would not be thought about to light. Out of this I began using the grid.

Melvin Edwards “A Conversation with Norman Lewis,” 1979

Melvin Edwards. I really liked this sculptural piece because it depicts two sculptures – one that rocks and has “it’s mouth always open,” and one that is more closed and stable. The artist says in an interview of his retrospective at the Nasher Museum of Art: “It’s called A Conversation with Norman Lewis.  That’s based on something he used to say:  ‘You can’t hear with your mouth open.'” It makes me consider the artists role in both conversing and listening…

Visual Research Journal #29 – 32

As I mentioned in my last post, my next project is to complete at least 3 paintings on a series of my choice. At my meditation class tonight, I was inspired to make a painting(s) that is also an offering. In Buddhism, making offerings to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha (the 3 jewels in Buddhism) can be mental or physical, but ultimately it is a *practice* that helps create vast positive energy, or merit, in the mind of the practitioner, and helps us let go of miserly, or selfish tendencies. With this intention, I figured it would make sense to investigate contemporary 2D artists who work with themes of offerings and Buddhism.

Youdhi Maharjan is a New Hampshire based collage artist. His installations and prints are made from repurposed texts, which he strips of their legible content. Maharjan has cited the Buddhist Thangka (painting on cotton textile) as one source of inspiration. His art also reflects his military training to be a doctor in his native Nepal, before he decided to become an artist. He uses rigid, mathematical repetition as a source of meditation when creating his pieces. I find his work interesting because of his meditative flow states that is integral to his artistic process, as well as his use / destruction of words.

“I am interested in the idea of Sisyphean eternity, monotonous repetition of the same labor over and over again, with no hope or expectation for an end. In the process, I experience different kind of eternity, the sweet kind, that lasts for few material moments, but feels like forever, where the time stops, and with it, stops all my questions and worries, where I am free from my existential burden and get a little closer to myself.”
– Youdhi Maharjan

Charwei Tsai is a visual artist born in Taiwan who currently lives and works in Taipei and Paris. Her works range from performance to drawing, and are highly personal, portraying a sense of her Taiwanese identity and the consequent implications, like her practice of Buddhism. Her work, We Came Whirling from Nothingness (2014), is a series of drawings where various forms of spiral were created by watercolor on rice paper and inscribed with Heart Sutra, a seminal Buddhist teaching on the nature of reality, or emptiness. The texts gradually disperse in the outer sphere into the void in contemplation of the essence of emptiness even when applied to dharma (or Buddhist teaching) itself.

We Came Whirling from Nothingness I-IV(details), 2014, Watercolor & ink on rice paper, 68x68cm

With the Tibetan diaspora, a wide range of perspectives on Buddhism has found their way into contemporary art. Tenzing Rigdol is a Tibetan artist that address Buddhist themes, ideas, and traditional texts but considers his global audience when making his art. In his work below, Tenzing Rigdol’s abstracted figure of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, so that it has no face, thus denying the viewer of any direct or emotionally charged devotional contact. By omitting the eyes, Tenzing removes the image from a traditional devotional function and casts it as an independent work of art. I like this work because of the visual language he both employs and disobeys to communicate Buddhism, meditation, and reflection to create new meanings.

Tenzing Rigdol (born Kathmandu 1982). Pin Drop Silence: Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara, 2013. Ink, pencil, acrylic, and pastel on paper; image: 91 5/8 x 49 1/8 in. (232.7 x 124.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Andrew Cohen, in honor of Tenzing Rigdol and Fabio Rossi, 2013 (2013.627)

The last artists for this entry is Gonkar Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist artist who principally works in collage. His massive collage, Dissected Buddha, also references a traditional image of Buddha reaching down to touch the earth at the moment of his enlightenment, but it also breaks from tradition with the Buddha’s body dissolving into a cacophony of stickers and blurbs. A central theme of Gonkar’s work for the past twenty years is his questioning of the image of a Buddhas as a symbol of enlightenment in the twenty-first century. I appreciate this work because it is a question that I would like to explore as well: how do we define holiness and enlightenment? How do we visually communicate it in a way that allows both the artist and the viewer to arrive at deeper insights of wisdom and compassion? I also appreciate his intense details that pull you into his work, enticing the viewer to investigate while simultaneously reminding you to look for the bigger picture that is often right in front of us…

Gonkar Gyatso (born Lhasa 1961). Dissected Buddha, 2011. Collage, stickers, pencil and colored pencil, and acrylic on paper; 9 ft. 2 1/4 in. x 90 1/2 in. (280 x 229.9 cm). Promised Gift of Margaret Scott and David Teplitzky. © Gonkar Gyatso

Visual Research Journal #25 – 28

I don’t know if it’s because I’m an art student studying to be a teacher, or because I’m an artist, but it seems like art education these days is so fast – as soon as you finish a project, you reflect, and it’s time fore 3 more assignments! The final project for my Painting for Meaning class is to develop a series of at least 3 paintings that accumulate to 40 hours of work. The theme and subject, process and methods, are entirely up to me. So much freedom! I’m hoping I can find some artists in this research journal to inspire me.

If you’re an art educator, there are some awesome artist and thematic investigations to inspire you on Art21.org. I remember my high school art teacher, Jack Watson, first introducing the platform to me through our lessons.

Work by John Baldessari

The first artist is John Baldessari. He is an American conceptual artist known for his work with found photography and appropriated images. He combines photomontage, painting, and words to create strong visual juxtapositions with words to illuminate, confound, and challenge meaning. He breaks traditional functions of an image by instead focusing on small details, negative spaces, etc. His work creates both humor and dissonance within the viewer. I really like the collaged and juxtaposition in his work, although I would be interested in how it creates conceptual meaning beyond just contradicting formal visual standards.

Stephanie Syjuco is up next. She is a US conceptual artist and educator. . She was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1974 and currently lives and works in San Francisco. I appreciate how Syjuco works in photography, sculpture, and installation, moving from handmade to digital editing to explore the tension between the authentic and the counterfeit, challenging deep-seated assumptions about history, race, and labor. Her work is very much activism in my mind, and serves a function to change culture of consumerism. Check out her website here.

Here is a description of the artist’s work – “Cargo Cults (Cover-Up),” 20″ x 15 – in her own words: “This photographic series revisits historical ethnographic studio portraiture via fictional display: using mass-manufactured goods purchased from American shopping malls and restyled to highlight popular fantasies associated with “ethnic” patterning and costume. Purchased on credit cards and returned for full refund after the photo shoots, the cheap garments hail from the distant lands of Forever21, H&M, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, Target, The Gap, and more.”

Next we have Thomas Hirschhorn. As an artist he is interested creating art that serves in public discourse in political discontent. As an artist he rejects elitist aesthetic criteria by posing questions about aesthetic value, moral responsibility, political agency, consumerism, and media spectacle. Again, I appreciate his overt rejection of aesthetic norms to challenge power structures. He has described his decision to use everyday materials as “political” as these materials “don’t intimidate, they are universal, economic, inclusive, and don’t bear any plus-value”. 

Thomas Hirschhorn and Marcus Steinweg. Foucault Map, 2004. Cardboard, paper, plastic, foil, tape, prints, marker pen, 179 x 108 inches. Photo: Rita Burmester. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Thomas Hirschhorn

Last but not least we have Elliott Hundley, who is a painter and collage artist from Greensboro, North Carolina. His multi-panel tableaus, with family and friends, found images are anchored to bulletin-board-like surfaces, and built up with materials such as cutup magazines, string, plastic, gold leaf. He recycles leftover scraps from one work and uses images of completed paintings as substructures for new projects,
creating continuity between old and new. I appreciate his effort to collage layers of materials, meaning, and time into his work.

Work by Elliot Hundley.

New Work: White Memory

White Memory, oil on pre-stretched canvas, 16″x20″ (2019). Copyright 2019 Monica Heiser

Take a minute to peer into the painting. What do you see?

  • Portrait of the artist as a little girl, wearing a white collared shirt
  • Words in the background that wrap around to the next line (racism, racial profiles, white privilege, fear, oppression, bias) some of the words are hidden by the portrait
  • A white film cover the portrait in certain spots
  • Pink outlined words that spell – “White Memor”that allow the portrait underneath shine through
  • Circled words – “Racism”; “I”; “See”; “U”

These visual tools and techniques are employed in an attempt to comment on the way that racism has been woven into the matrix or fabric of our American society, so much so that it becomes hard to read unless we look closely. White privilege, racism, etc. are taught to youth, we are not born with these ideologies. To unlearn them as adults, we must look closely, peer through the white washed veil that protects that narrative and white washes white people. White memory has been privileged as the voice of truth, but the word falls to the bottom of the canvas before it’s even complete. Memory is fallible, it quickly changes, and it can be manipulated to oppress.

As I was once a white girl, and now a white woman, this confrontation is an important reclamation of my identity. This painting is sad. I didn’t want to literally white wash a very colorful and joyful smiling image of myself – but that is what racism does: it kills the humanity in all of us. However, I stare through that veil in defiance and challenge the viewer by gazing at them, hoping that they too can examine how white privilege has been painted over their reality.

“As a white girl, and now a white woman, this confrontation is an important reclamation of my identity.”

This is an incredible important conversation to have if we want racial equality in the United States. We need to remember and confront the past harm and evil that racism has created, as well as the insidious ways it continues to benefit white people. As an art educator, I am not only thinking about how I visually create this dialogue, but also how I can incorporate it into my art classes as a potential unit or lesson plan. Teaching Tolerance is an awesome resource for radical pedagogy for any core curriculum. Here is a link to a unit specifically unpacking white privilege: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2018/what-is-white-privilege-really

Although recognizing white privilege is an important step to dismantling it, here are some ideas from Teaching Tolerance that we can do:

  1. Do not take it personally or use discomfort as an excuse to disengage. The point of talking about white privilege is NOT to make you feel guilty; this is NOT a personal attack on you; and no one is calling you, as an individual racist. So while feelings of guilt or defensiveness may arise, to make those feelings the center of the conversation instead of confronting the main issue of dismantling racism actually perpetuates the problem. Rather than centering your own feelings of discomfort, center the feelings of people of color in evaluating what to do with this information. Be proactive and think, What actions can I take to help?
  2. Educate yourself. One way to help is to educate yourself! It is not just the job of people of color to dismantle racism, it’s all of our responsibility because it harms all of us. Evil and harm feeds off of ignorance, so educating yourself is a powerful method of social change. There are so so many books and articles on the topic written by people of color – take advantage of the resources out there and avoid burdening friends or coworkers of color with constant questions about their experiences.
  3. Educate fellow white people.  Share what you’ve learned. Push through discomfort and demand courageous conversations in your circles. Do not let peers get away with problematic remarks without making a serious effort to engage them.
  4. Risk your unearned benefits to benefit others. There are other ways to do this in our daily lives: intervening if you see a boss or fellow educator treating someone differently because of their racial identity; being an active witness (filming) when you see people of color confronted by law enforcement or harassed by bigots and letting them know you are there to support them and record the interaction if necessary. And of course most through direct anti-bias work, like building inclusive practices at your school or business or working with people committed anti-racist activism, such as SURJ

If you know of resources – books, websites, magazines, free online courses, etc. – that have helped you, please comment them below! Thanks for reading ❤