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Silhouettes and stereotypes: KCAPA students explore identity through public art

Photo: Emma Lee | WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

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Sometimes art is a vehicle for sharing an idea with others. Other times, the act of making it shows you something about yourself.

More than 70 students at Kensington’s High School for the Creative & Performing Arts have spent months working on a series of pieces — poems, essays, videos, and photographs — tackling the topic of teen identity.

Pieces from the "What’s Your Story?" project," dreamed up by KCAPA teachers Josh Kleiman and Charlie McGeehan, now hang in eight different spots in the school’s neighborhood. The teachers said they were inspired by the work of photographer Wendy Ewald and writer Linda Christensen.

Students created portraits, shared family photos, and crafted silhouettes as a way to explore different ways of thinking about their own identities.

"When you see the silhouette, you see the outline of the person, but you don’t really know the real story behind the person," said junior Natasha Feliciano. In that way, she said, silhouettes are like stereotypes, because both give an incomplete picture.

To visualize both of these ideas, students shot silhouette portraits, all-black profiles on a white background. Then they challenged a specific stereotype that they faced and wrote a response to it inside their silhouettes.

These stereotypes became the basis of "single story" essays, where students discussed a time when they felt judged by someone. The single story idea was in part inspired by a TED talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. "The stereotype that I’m trying to break out of is a young teenage mother [not] being successful," said junior Bianca Michelle Ventura, who wrote about being shamed by a counter attendant at a deli.

"I told her I was 17, and she was like, ‘Oh wow, that’s too young to be a mother,’" said Ventura. Contrary to the stereotype, she said, becoming a mother has given her more motivation to stay in school and pursue a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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