Outside Voices: Naeema


Outside Voices is an interview series in which Community-Word Project catches up with current and former students to see how their participation in CWP’s creative art programs impacted their learning and growth.

High school student with glasses smiling into camera

Naeema is a high-school student at The Young Women’s Leadership School in Queens. Last year Naeema participated in CWP 2.0, a college and career exposure program. CWP 2.0 students, with the guidance of CWP Teaching Artists and our partners-in-education, New York University and Georgia Tech, make interactive public art, interface with innovative technology, lead curriculum design, and participate in networking events.

Naeema recently sat down, virtually, with CWP Board Member Lori Bullock to talk about her experiences with CWP and how exposure to her peers’ and mentors’ artistic practices helped inform her creativity and opened her up to multiple expressions of individual creativity.

Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Lori: Would you say that your experience learning technology and how to code has extended or sort of elevated your artistic ability and expression as the two worlds collided?  

Naeema: It really did. A lot of our projects were sort of self-portraits and they were a lot about who we are as people, where we came from. I liked how we really sat down for our first project, which was our self-portrait project, and the  three different images that really reflect who you are.

I liked how we got to sit down and reflect and absorb who we really are in these three images and it really brought out our artistic-ness through that. And I was able to also see my peers and it was one of our first interactions we had about this first project. I got to see how they use the different materials we had in very, very creative ways and what, with those materials and with those things, they did with the projects. I was able to actually see their personality in a different way.

Lori:  What would you say is the power of voice and how do you use that now as you go out into the world and understand the tools that you’ve gathered together to sort of help express yourself through technology, through art, through mentorship, through leadership, and being exposed to all these different things.

Naeema: I think the power of voice is not limited to anybody. I think anybody in any field, any age, any group should be able to really, truly show their voice. And with this program, I was able to convey different messages and I was able to really show people different aspects of life through my voice. Even though a lot of kids might have been younger than me, some of them were older than me, and even I was able to help show these issues that I saw with my mentors.

I think when expressing a voice, a lot of people might be doubtful of it because they might be scared of who they’re showing it to and how a lot of people might ignore them or a lot of people might not see who they are. But with the power of art, we were able to express our voice to a different kind of group in different ways, where people might not have thought of it in the first place. And I feel like with art and technology together, it made it more meaningful and truthful than like words. And it was a different and more innovative way to really show our message that we wanted to give to everyone.

Lori: Tell us how art is important to you now after experiencing all the different programs that you’re exposed to.

Naeema: I would see art in a different way now because before I felt like art…it was very like not into my field. I didn’t feel like art was one thing that I could really grasp and one thing that I could take my voice and kind of show it to a different crowd of people.

But after the program and after working with a lot of my peers, I was able to see their artistic views and also my mentors’ artistic views. And with those two components coming together, it really influenced me, to open my mind and open my creative liberties. I can focus on art and I can take my art and I can take all the other aspects of the program and still convey what I want to really speak out about. And I feel with art, I was able to really express a new side of myself and a new, like, yeah, a new side of myself that I didn’t really see before. And I just liked how that program really helped me achieve that new goal that I had.

Lori: How would you say your experience at CWP has prepared you in terms of things shifting from when you first started to where you are now? And how that experience helps you to show up in everyday life or experience everyday life? Meaning, do you draw upon your art experience? Do you draw upon the skills that you learned in terms of coding to sort of help you navigate the world?

Naeema: Yeah. Earlier, I didn’t mention how I was very intimidated by coding itself. I didn’t see myself ever becoming a coder. Like, when I finished my computer science test, I was like, ‘I hope I never touch on the subject again.’ It was very difficult for me, even though I was able to pass the class. It was very hard. Some days, I didn’t want to even look at a computer. I didn’t even want to look at the code. But it did really help me because I saw this challenge and I saw this and I didn’t want to give it  another thought. But I was able to open it. This challenge I had in different ways and where it was more suited for me and more suited for what I needed instead of being more like a classroom and more of a task, it became more of like my ambition and something I wanted to do. And with that skill, it really helped me with other things, like it helped me see a challenge and see different tasks I wouldn’t want to do. But seeing them in a different light and seeing how they could change how I see things, I feel like that is one of the skills that helped me with the program.

Lori: Learning all about art and being exposed to different styles and techniques, and learning about computers and robotics and coding in the language of coding. How would you say all of that? Artistic knowledge? Scientific knowledge? How do you think that changes the world in any capacity? Do you think art can change the world?

Naeema: I do think art can really change the world, because I feel like without art, we might have been like, really like mindless humans, but doing things like art really opens up people in different ways. Even right now, I’m taking an art class with my school and I’m really able with our art projects to see my classmates and peers. Art really opens up people in different ways that I don’t think any other field could really tap into. And with art, you’re really able to see how everyone’s minds work. And even though we had the same outline, same time, same task, everybody works in different and unique ways. And with art, we were really able to see how, even though we all have the same tasks, we all approach it in different and more ambiguous ways than I think anybody could really think about.