IB Art year 2 Student Basil Bennett- Levy reflects on gender transitions and identity as their concentration
When I started thinking about my concentration, I wanted to explore the concept of transition. The transitions between genders that transgender young people experience are thought of as ugly and something that should not be seen.
Often, transgender celebrities will go into a period of hiding after they announce their new identity while they undergo whatever medical changes they need to look how they want, and then reenter society looking completely different. This process keeps the transitional period out of the public eye, and makes people with ambiguous gender presentation seem unnatural. I believe that this is not the best was to handle transgender people in the public eye, since it makes encounters between cisgender and transgender people more uncomfortable and prevents understanding. I decided to paint transgender young people to try to document this stage in their lives, and my show is a celebration of these in-between people.
I decided to ask people to send me pictures they took of themselves for me to paint. I asked them to choose a picture that they felt confident in, and to explain all the reasons why they felt confident in that picture. In addition, I asked everyone for a list of the ways they identify themselves. I found their answers surprising, because people interpreted the prompt differently.
My goal for this list was to help humanize the people in my paintings, so that my audience could get to know them better and imagine them as complex people rather than just strangers.
To further emphasize this spectrum (and transition) concept, I decided to arrange the pieces (in my exhibit) on a scale from feminine expression to masculine expression.
Inspired by Angelica Dass, creator of Humanae, and in hope to spread togetherness and promote acceptance of diversity at Clarkstown High School North, I took on this photographic human hand mosaic.
The motivation to start such a project originated from Ms. Phalen’s AP Language class during our “Race & Otherness” unit as we explored & presented various texts found on social media, etc. in order to construct our own claims on the issues.
Color is a concept so familiar, simple & pure. We, as humans, believe we KNOW what color is and means. We hold STRONG OPINIONS and preconceived notions about color.
With “color”, there is no difference of which is better than the other; they are simply just colors. But when it comes to “skin color”, there is unfortunately a whole level of labeling, a sense of prejudice of one race/group over another.
But by reframing or redefining the term “color”, we can make the comfortable, uncomfortable.Through the use of defamiliarization, or the “the artistic technique of presenting to audiences common things in an unfamiliar or strange way in order to enhance perception of the familiar”, we can deconstruct this mentality of superiority. We can take color apart, and reconstruct the wheel with a new perspective, a new thought.
I chose hands because hands hold a second level, deeper meaning, symbolizing unity in itself. “The holding of hands” per say is unifying, accepting. So by using hands as a marker for each individual makes sense.
Along with the hands, I decided to have the caption be a word of identification, not a PANTONE color name. So each person along with a photograph chose a word they felt they identified as, i.e., musician, athlete, cheery, etc.
There were several moments I wasn’t quite sure what to do. So much ambition and excitement to tackle a project for a girl who had little to no experience on photoshop and also did not think through the details at the start. I just jumped right in! And it’s funny because I usually don’t do that; I like to plan out meticulously for anything I do to. It was a change in approach but it was well worth it.
During an Art Honors Meeting, with your help, I was able to collect the names of kids who were interested in participating.
With just a stool, a white sheet of paper, and my iPhone camera, I shot 67 hands of students & staff over the course of two days after school.
That weekend I began editing. 7 straight hours in my room without a break I cranked at it on Saturday. Then Sunday morning back at it, I spent the rest of my day editing until I got through 45 hands, all set & ready to go.
My editing consisted of taking a pixel of color from the center of the middle knuckle (as opposed to the center of the nose as Dass had done) and filling the background. I then selected a font, font size, and rectangular box height & width for the font to go on. Attached is a time lapse video of an example, Mr. Covert as “leader”.
I want to thank you, Mrs. Diamond for providing support and the resources to get my ideas a reality and Denise, the woman at the main office who out of genuine interest persuaded almost 30 students to stop & be a part of my project. Again thank you! This turned out so much more than I ever imagined. 🙂
Thanks to our band teacher for sharing this great resource! Mr. Andert has been working on integrating diversity into band program. Through his training and work with “The Dream Unfinished,” he is working to present more music from diverse composers in the music classroom.
AN ACTIVIST ORCHESTRA
The Dream Unfinished is an activist orchestra which supports NYC-based civil rights and community organizations through concerts and presentations.
To use classical music as a platform to engage audiences with issues related to social and racial justice. Since its founding in 2014, TDU has staged over a dozen performances throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, and partnered with organizations such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, Black Women’s Blueprint, Justice League NYC, African American Policy Forum, and others. In 2015, The Dream Unfinished’s inaugural season honored the one year of Eric Garner’s passing. Its 2016 season, entitled Sing Her Name, culminated on the one-year anniversary of Sandra Bland’s passing. Future seasons of The Dream Unfinished will focus on the school to prison pipeline, solitary confinement, and gentrification.
Thank you Mrs. Rickli for sharing this resource approaching discussions of skin color using descriptive words (much the way we would describe the color of the sky or grass), as opposed to jus racial constructs.
“With very young children we often point out the colors of buses, fire trucks and grass, as we teach them about the world. We’re naming all these things, but we’re not talking about people’s colors. In some ways, it’s really odd that there’s this whole description that we’re not addressing. It teaches kids that race is not okay to talk about. When parents are silent, children make up their own stories as to why.”
For a link to the full article, click here.
Some places where I could imagine quick references in our classes:
We are often “identifying” in our content areas, whether specific names for tubes of acrylic paint, or symbols on a periodic table. Perhaps when identifying topics come up, and he have discussions of symbolic vs. representational, we can weave the conversation of actual skin color vs. racially defined colors into our conversations.
While Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for so many, the irony of the violence at Standing Rock, that has been on going for the past several months, and has been particularly atrocious this week, can not be overlooked.
There are so many levels or social injustice encompassed in this situation.
As you investigate class struggle, consider the similarities between the water crisis in flint and the one the building/rerouting of the Dakota access pipeline presents.
As you investigate environmental racism, consider the issues to rerouting of the pipeline presents in terms of treaties broken, religious rites being compromised and sacred sites being destroyed.
As you investigate the demoralizing and inhuman treatment of the protestors/protectors, revisit the recent standoff of the Malhuer NAtional Wildlife Refuge.
From class struggles and racial bias, to environmental issues and religious freedom…
This urgent crisis among the peaceful water protectors needs more awareness, support and action.
Thank you to Vera Romanowsky and Sue Gold for sharing this useful information from GLSEN on lesson planning ideas that integrate LGBT learning with content areas.
As we work together to navigate this post-presidential election season, a first generation female student told me she has been speaking the lines of this point to herself as a path to healing and understanding. Thank you for sharing Rebecca:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!
Click here for a summary/analysis of the poem
As students get ready to begin a shoot on “stranger portraits” we engaged a conversation regarding whether or not to ask permission from the stranger.
Acknowledging that every situation will be different, we discussed “reading” the unspoken cues of body language, as well as ways to approach individuals with dignity and appreciation in an effort to help people understand that the photo student motives are reputable.
What a great life lesson as well!
Students practiced these techniques by pairing and working with a stranger in the class (someone that they have no interaction with at all). First, students were asked to sit across from each other and look into each other’s eyes for two minutes. They could choose to talk or not, as long as they continued looking into each other’s eyes.
When the two minutes were up, students were invited to then talk with each other about taking each other’s portrait.
The bond they had formed in the brief two minute exercise, was evident as they worked together in their shoots.
In their final written reflections, students commented on the journey they felt they want on during this lesson….truly an inspiration!
This moving experience has been used in various ways, most recently by Amnesty International to bridge understanding between Europeans and the recent wave of refugees. 4 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact is used as a tool to break down barriers.
We can’t wait to give this a try with our students!