11th grade students at the Bronx Lab School focused on expressing their emotions through materials first and language second in this 9-week residency. This process occurred over the course of three projects: The Belonging Sculpture, The Diaspora Collage, and My Utopia Project.
Students had the freedom to choose their materials for each project, though I set limitations for each project. For The Belonging Sculpture, they could use material, but no words. In The Diaspora Collage, they had to incorporate magazines and materials to make their collage. And for My Utopia Project, they had free rein to design their ideal or perfect world.
Students pushed themselves and worked within their individual needs and limitations to make work that had meaning for them, even if it did not have meaning for others. In this sense, they learned that specificity, authenticity, and vulnerability are foundational to artmaking.
I never asked students to sign their work. It was most important to get them to author their objects through the material. I know whose work is whose, but I decided to leave them unsigned. In retrospect, I think their relationship to the projects, concepts, and ability to use language dictated whether students signed their work. Although signing work is often an indication of ownership, I am unsure which projects students show more mastery over, signed or unsigned work.
I named the belonging sculptures based on students’ explanations about how and why they used materials. I also want to show them that their most abstract work has meaning. We can create a new language for abstraction and our most complex emotions. Because students could draw and write, I left The Diaspora Collage untitled. I feel those pieces beg for me not to touch them. They feel more concrete, less supple. Last, students wrote on or signed their My Utopia Projects. So, I titled each project using language from the students’ work.
Students, thank you for sharing your time, energy, and spirits with me. Thank you for showing up for yourself. Thank you for trying new things. And thank you for being you. Good luck and remember to lead with love.
Mx. Imani Ford, Spring 2022
Multidisciplinary Arts and CWP Teaching Artist