‘So What?’ about the Environment

Photo by Shari Logan
Photo by Shari Logan

An art exhibit called “So What?” focusing on the environment, which was created entirely by students from two Bedford Stuyvesant schools is sure to make an impact beyond the walls of the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Arts [MoCADA] where it is on display.

Students like seven-year-old Sarah Christie of P.S. 3 –The Bedford Village School that has a population of up to 70 percent, with students of Caribbean descent — according to school administrators, has influenced her mom to be more environmentally conscious.

“She turns off the lights in the house and when I went to put foil in the garbage, she said: ‘No Mommy, we have to recycle’” said Jamaican native Nadia Christie at the opening celebration for the exhibition on May 21.

Sarah along with her sister Katherine, 9, and 23 other classmates in grades one through five from the Bedford Village School, created a map made of scrap paper. For example when construction paper was used to make letters for signs encouraging students to recycle or save energy, the remaining paper was torn off and put in a blender with some water. Then the excess water was drained and the new paper was flattened, dried and used for various designs.

“I feel proud that I’m in a museum. I’m also proud that we created the globe together. I like helping the planet by recycling. I recycled cans, foil, and milk cartoons. This experience with MoCADA was very fun,” said Katherine.

The exhibit is the result of the Artist in the Schools (A-I-S) program that is made possible by an Afterschool Activities (CASA) grant from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. MoCADA has participated in the program for the past 10 years. Teaching artists Joseph Zoboi and M. Scott Johnson worked with students from the Bedford Village School and M.S. 57 Ron Brown Academy respectively for 25 weeks.

“So What?” also features a photo composite technique that Johnson, a sculptor of 20 years, created himself and used with 15 eight-grade students. Although he has great knowledge of the world of art, he said that at times he became the student.

“I may be teaching them but I’m learning simultaneously. I look at them as fellow artists, not children, because they have a stroke of genius now that I don’t have,” said Johnson who has taught in the A-I-S program for four years.

People will approach the exhibit because there is a familiarity with it. The students took a leap in how they looked at the Environment theme. We have pictures with [bottles of antidepressant] Prozac. Some of the kids complain that the medication [they are prescribed] makes them sleepy or that the foods in their community are unhealthy and the photography shows that. They are more mature than you think.”

In fact, student artist Ericson Lewis, 14, of M.S. 57 Ron Brown Academy came up with the concept for the photo composite that features foods like an apple or fish and tools such as nails. He said that nails represent the harsh chemicals that are killing our foods.

“The program was lovely. I was inspired to continue creating artwork. I want to inspire other people to feel happy and eat healthy,” said Lewis.

Parent Adia Music was both happy and thankful about what she saw in the student art exhibit.

“It’s visually stimulating. There are students in art schools who can’t come up with some of these concepts. This is powerful and not as mundane as what other museums have. A lot of artists are trying to mask reality so they can become commercial. This says ‘Wake up!’ 2014_06_09_SL_MoCADA.incx

“Wow, thank you to [MoCADA and teachers] for guiding our youth.”

MoCADA Education Director Morgan Parker is excited about the impact this experience will have in the lives of the students.

“This year the students became extremely invested in the environment, and used the arts as a way to express their activism. It was so exciting to watch them find new ways to think about climate change, sustainability, and how to make an impact in their communities. For many students, the program provided a spark for lifelong environmental activism,” Parker said.

“So What?” runs through July 27 at MoCADA which is located on 80 Hanson Pl. in Brooklyn. For more information, visit mocada.org

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