Page 1

From their violent pasts comes art [3 Edition]

Boston Globe - Boston, Mass. Subjects: Juvenile offenders; Violence; Art exhibits Author: Smardon, Andrea Date: Apr 24, 2007 Start Page: D.1 Section: LivingArts Document Text It's a small mixed-media collage, 11 by 14 inches, made up of pictures cut out of magazines and pasted on a sheet of paper that's painted half pink, half purple. At first glance, it's a typical high school art project. But look closely at the pictures in it. Here's a photograph of a girl with her hands behind her back - actually there are six copies of this image. There are the kitchen knives, six of them. And the bouquet of flowers, on top of a bathtub, all scratched out with angry black marker. There's no blood, despite the obvious violence in the image. "I've been trying to forget about the blood," the 15-year-old artist says, speaking in the day room of the Spectrum Girls Detention Unit in the Metro Youth Service Center, the polite name for the juvenile lockup in Dorchester. In February, the girl - here called J.; Spectrum requested her name not be given to protect her privacy - had been covered in blood. Her 19-year-old boyfriend had been shot three times, just down the street from her foster home in Roxbury. She held his head in her lap, blood pouring down his neck, as she waited for the ambulance to come. "The dogs was going crazy," she says. "The neighbor's dog got over the fence. We were screaming." She points to her left hip, where she says she was grazed by one of the bullets after it bounced off the ground. Once she starts talking about that night, she can't stop. Miraculously, her boyfriend survived. She says she's already been to three funerals of friends killed in street violence. Her brother is part of a gang, and, she says, "His boys are getting shot left and right." But being there when her boyfriend got shot has shaken her up the most, she says. Afterward, she says she found herself getting in trouble and ended up in detention. "I'm scared," the girl says, wrapping her arms around her body under her facility-issued sweatshirt. "It could have been me so easily." Looking at the artwork by the girls incarcerated at the detention center, it's clear they all have something to say about violence. The girls, ages 13 to 18, submitted their art for an exhibition on display this week at the Massachusetts State House called "Violence Transformed." The exhibit, coinciding with National Crime Victims Rights Awareness Week, includes youth and adult artwork from the greater Boston area, and it's organized by an unusual collaboration of artists, museum professionals, and community-service providers. All of the youth pieces in the exhibit were selected by a group of teen curators from the Cloud Foundation, an organization serving teen artists in Boston. Mary Harvey, an art student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, is the driving force behind the exhibit. She's also a psychologist and founding director of the Victims of Violence program at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a leading partner in the "Violence Transformed" project. Harvey says the work from young artists is an important part of the exhibit. "We're reading every day about kids being killed, kids doing the killing, kids being exposed to the killing. And we really


wanted to make room for young artists, and particularly young urban artists, to exhibit their work in response to violence, and to do so on a par with adult artists." For most of the girls at the detention facility, thinking seriously about art is a new thing. Thinking about violence, however, is all too familiar. Most of them are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, but many of them have friends or relatives who have been involved in street violence, and an overwhelming majority have been victims of physical or sexual abuse. In much of the artwork produced by these girls, there are images of confinement, bars on windows, fingerprints, key locks, and death. But right alongside them are images of the outdoors - trees, flowers, birds - suggesting freedom and peace, alternatives beyond their grasp. Another 15-year-old, also called J., has painted a room with a grand piano and a cello. One of the walls is missing. Where the wall would have been, there are trees. Asked what it's about, she says, "A couple weeks ago, a lot of people were getting killed. I made a peaceful room to go take space in. Look outside the window, the birds are chirping, it's peaceful." This same girl takes on a tougher persona a few minutes later while talking with other center residents. "I always hear gun shots," she says. "It doesn't scare me, 'cause I'm used to it." Montserrat College of Art teacher Kathryn Jellinghaus says she provides the materials and some guidelines for the girls' artwork, but she tries not to give the girls too many restrictions. "Art is inherently therapeutic and empowering because it allows for an infinite number of solutions and ideas," she says. "It allows them to experience emotions and tell stories that can be healing." Jellinghaus works at the detention center for a project called Hear Us Make Artistic Noise, part of Boston College Law School's Juvenile Rights and Advocacy Project. HUMAN founder and BC law professor Francine Sherman says, "Art is a conversation opener. You can't ignore it when you see how pervasive violence is in these kids' work. We had a whole year where we couldn't stop girls from doing memorial work. Everything was about death and gravesites." Sherman says the program is also designed to raise community awareness. "One of the reasons we started HUMAN is to help people who aren't involved with these kids regularly to see what they're experiencing. It's powerful stuff," she says. When asked about having her work displayed at the State House, 15-year-old L. says quietly but assuredly, "I want to expose my experience. People could see how young kids like me are living today, how the streets are not safe." S., 16, says, "I really want it to get out there. I want people to see what I think. I want other people to see what I see." Sherman says she's thrilled that the work of these incarcerated girls will be exhibited with other artists. "They're being seen for their talent, and not for what they've done." She's hoping the exhibit will affect the way government officials talk about violence. "I hope the conversation can be deeper. We usually talk about violence in a generic way," Sherman explains, "as if there's no difference between girls and boys, no differences between ethnicities. One of the things we see among girls is violence in the home, personal relationships. I don't want that conversation to get lost. [The exhibit] should make a difference in the way we think about policies."


As for the 15-year-old trying to forget about the blood, she says her art is more about herself than it is about violence, but, "there's violence in me." She points to different parts of her work. "There's light in me. There's flowers. Everything that's inside of me is on this paper." There is text throughout the piece in a shaky cursive, spelling it out for those who might not understand. It reads, "With my hands behind my back ... and a million knifes [sic] through my chest ... there are still flowers in my eyes as I wait for the day to wash away these memories, and become the shining light once again. I am forever waiting for my chance to become ... free." Illustration Caption: "Identity," a collage by 16-year-old S., includes images of both confinement and freedom. Credit: Andrea Smardon Globe Correspondent. Boston Globe Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

Abstract (Document Summary) It's a small mixed-media collage, 11 by 14 inches, made up of pictures cut out of magazines and pasted on a sheet of paper that's painted half pink, half purple. At first glance, it's a typical high school art project. But look closely at the pictures in it. Here's a photograph of a girl with her hands behind her back - actually there are six copies of this image. There are the kitchen knives, six of them. And the bouquet of flowers, on top of a bathtub, all scratched out with angry black marker. There's no blood, despite the obvious violence in the image. Looking at the artwork by the girls incarcerated at the detention center, it's clear they all have something to say about violence. The girls, ages 13 to 18, submitted their art for an exhibition on display this week at the Massachusetts State House called "Violence Transformed." The exhibit, coinciding with National Crime Victims Rights Awareness Week, includes youth and adult artwork from the greater Boston area, and it's organized by an unusual collaboration of artists, museum professionals, and community-service providers. All of the youth pieces in the exhibit were selected by a group of teen curators from the Cloud Foundation, an organization serving teen artists in Boston. [Mary Harvey] says the work from young artists is an important part of the exhibit. "We're reading every day about kids being killed, kids doing the killing, kids being exposed to the killing. And we really wanted to make room for young artists, and particularly young urban artists, to exhibit their work in response to violence, and to do so on a par with adult artists." Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.

From their violent pasts comes art the boston globe archives  

Boston Globe Article

From their violent pasts comes art the boston globe archives  

Boston Globe Article

Advertisement