Identity Show Helps Students Explore Themselves Through Art

Pieces from the Identity Show exhibited on the high school’s third floor. Photos by Shaila Joshi.

The seventh annual Identity Show, displayed on the third floor of the high school building, opened Feb. 14 and will run until April 9. The exhibit includes various media of artwork that relate to social justice, race, culture, family, sexual orientation, mental health, gender, religion, ability and socio-economics. All of the work in the show is created by GDS studio arts students. 

The media in the show include painting, drawing, ceramics, 3D modeling, film, sculpture, installations, photography and mixed media. The show is open to GDS students and families who provide proof of vaccination and are masked.

In years past, underclassmen and introductory-level art students have been barred from contributing artwork to the Identity Show. This year, in an effort to be more inclusive, it is “heavily encouraged” that all students in studio arts classes participate, according to Michelle Cobb, the high school studio arts department chair. 

Freshman Lauren Berman, who takes Digital Media and Graphic Design, noted that it was the first year the class had participated. She said that she enjoyed the show, and thinks that “it would be a good idea to keep doing it every year.”

Senior Madeleine Popofsky’s artwork for the Identity Show.

With the return to in-person school, many found this year’s show more immersive than last year’s. “I haven’t had a chance to do an Identity Show in person,” sophomore Avery Ludlow, an Advanced Drawing and Painting student, said. “It was amazing being able to look in the studio to see the works.”

Junior Maya Raman, another Advanced Drawing and Painting student, found the in-person experience similarly meaningful. “Being in the same studio as a bunch of my friends and also other people in my class and seeing their ideas go from just something on a piece of paper to these fully realized, gorgeous pieces has been really extraordinary to watch,” she said.

Cobb described the show as an opportunity for students to “dig deep into their own identities, and to find images or ways of explaining or bringing their identities to the forefront.” She explained that she views art as a vehicle for students “to express themselves in ways that they may not have been able to do with words.”

Another goal of the show, according to Nick Ryan, a high school studio arts teacher, is to introduce students to the concept of thinking about their identities. “You’re so young—14, 15, 16 years old—you may not really know or appreciate your own identity,” he said of high school students. “You just sort of dismiss it right off the bat. Reflecting on your identity is hard to do.” 

“I think a lot of students have never thought about identity before, so this show kind of makes you really explore it and think about it,” Cobb added.

The Identity Show also offers a unique opportunity for independence: most teachers limit requirements on assignments for the show and allow students to find their own direction. “It’s really a time to let it go,” high school photography teacher Francesca Scott said. The prompts given to students differ from teacher to teacher, but Scott said the only rules she gives are that her students “be as creative as possible,” and that they answer the question “who am I?”

Freshman Dhilan Desai’s artwork for the Identity Show. 

Junior Sophie Wohlstadter, a visual arts student, appreciated the freedom of the project. “I just liked the opportunity to do whatever I wanted,” she said. “I’ve never been able to do any kind of sculpture in a drawing class before and it’s really exciting to be able to do it now.”

Some of the art students who spoke with the Bit found that putting such personal work on display was challenging. Raman said that she went back and forth about deciding whether or not to submit her work to this year’s show because of how personal the piece is. “I think it’s a really important show,” she said. “But at the same time, it does lay some pressure on people to dig deep into themselves in a way that they might not be ready to share to the rest of the school, which can be really intimidating, especially when you have so many friends and people that know you that are around.”

Senior Madeleine Popofsky’s artwork for the Identity Show.

Ryan was struck by the level of vulnerability some students were able to achieve with their projects. In reading the blurbs attached to students’ artwork, he admired how open students were with their personal experiences. “There are things in there that I don’t know that I would put up,” he said.

“If they’re uncomfortable, they should not put their work up,” Cobb said. “We help them write their blurbs, or even create art that is not too revealing, so it’s really up to the student how much they want to reveal.”

While Ludlow initially felt uncomfortable with the level of vulnerability that came with participating in the show, she ultimately realized the advantages participating in the show offered her. “It’s very important to step out of your comfort zone, and show off part of you that you may not be comfortable with. This is something I’m really proud of,” she said of her work, “and I actually do wish to show off.”

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