Local teens reflect on their identities and on growing up in Silicon Valley in "Youth Speaks Out," an art-and-narrative exhibit opening Saturday, March 9, at the Palo Alto Art Center.
Students from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools will display unconventional self-portraits, which use paint, paper and photography to explore questions of identity and "send messages to the community," organizers said.
About 100 art works from the teens will be displayed from March 9 to March 24 at the art center as well as in the lobby of Palo Alto City Hall.
The teen artists wrote short narratives to accompany each piece, which are displayed anonymously except for the name of the student's school and grade level.
"As I see these pieces I think about the notion of appearance -- that this is a community that's really invested in appearance," said Palo Alto resident Carolyn Digovich of the Palo Alto Youth Collaborative, an organizer of the show.
"Art doesn't lie, so kids get to express their realities directly."
Digovich worked with Gunn art teacher Deanna Messinger to organize the show. In addition to Messinger's drawing and painting students, students of Gunn photography teacher Jennifer Hogan and Paly photographer teacher Margo Wixsom contributed, with creative writing assistance from Gunn teacher Tam Wilson.
A therapist from Adolescent Counseling Services also was on hand to provide support. "She was there as kids needed it for some support but this is not art therapy," Digovich said.
Digovich and Messinger organized a similar show for the first time a year ago. This year, the show has expanded to 100 pieces, 35 more than last year.
The community is invited to an opening reception for "Youth Speaks Out" Saturday, March 9, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the art center.
Themes of the student art pieces, which were being hung this week, ranged from guarded identities to the perennial issue of academic stress.
"We build shields to protect ourselves from others without realizing that others are just as vulnerable and broken as we are," one student wrote.
"My self, my identity, is my most fiercely guarded possession. In moments of weakness, my shell cracks and a glimpse of my vulnerability seems through. For me, these moments are times of embarrassment and shame as I have taught myself to at strong despite my heavily protected fragility."
Another student tried to explain academic stress through photography.
A photo showed a boy, hands covering his face, standing next to a sign that reads: "They call me a wimp for crying after a bad grade. If they really knew me they would know I get ignored at home when I get a B-plus."
In a narrative to the photo "Sometimes You Just Need a Little Light," a student discussed finding her own inner strength.
"My face hidden in the shadows, only revealed by light, represents how your inner light is the power that you have, even in your darkest times," she wrote.
"In the last year I've dealt with many struggles and the one thing that I've learned is that you are the most important person in your own life. You have the ability to help yourself with your own potential and you should always put your needs first.
"In order to do things for others you have to be whole. The light you have, the power you have over yourself, that is what helps you get through the hardest times. Sometimes you just need a little light."
In addition to the teachers, support for the student art show comes from the Palo Alto Youth Collaborative, Project Safety Net, the Palo Alto Unified School District, the Palo Alto Recreation Department, Youth Community Service, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund and school board member Barb Mitchell.