“If you don’t know who you are, you don’t know where you’re going”

Portraits of Oakland Immigrants

How do teachers and students build relationships? How do I—as a teacher—learn, respect, and come to understand the lives of the young people in my classroom? How do I bridge my own art-making with my commitment to education?

This series of portraits is a beginning look at how I might make artwork about and in collaboration with my students. Here I have interviewed and made work about my immigrant students at Oakland International High School. In some cases the young person has given input and critique, visited the studio and worked on drawings to be burned onto screens. All of the young people are represented through two portraits, their past and their future, marking their high school years and the present moment as a transition.

I see this work as research that informs my practice as an educator. It gives me deeper insight into the lives of my students and the contexts from which they’ve emerged, which in turn allows me to better design experiences and curriculum. It also allows me to develop empathy. By meditating on the stories of these young people while making art, I develop a greater connection to the root of why I became a teacher and it helps me to stay committed to the challenging and sometimes overwhelming profession that is teaching.

Thank you to Miguel, Helen, Sara, Mousa, and Mahlet for generously letting me into their worlds and teaching me what a teacher needs to learn. Each of you is an artist in your own right—from a dancer to a photographer, you are all full of vision and have so much to offer the world.

These works are a combination of monoprint stencils, screenprints, and gouache. They were printed as varied editions and no one is the same. The slow laborious process allowed me to work large, experiment, and push myself as an artist and teacher. They are each 30″ x 22″ and were created while an artist-in-residence at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA. They were exhibited at the San Francisco Friends School Gallery in 2015.

Exhibit Photos by Alexa Heung