Margaret Rozga, poet, civil rights activist and professor emerita of English at UW-Waukesha, finds hope in the work of teen artists who created “We Speak: An Exhibition on Women’s Rights,” at the Arts @ Large Gallery, which runs until Sept. 30.
Saying the word hope is the first step in believing in a hopeful future. Saying hope moves us toward imagining and creating an alternative to fear. Hope is the anti-fear. In today’s climate of rhetorical violence, fear mongering, scapegoating, snipers and bombings, we all need ways to move beyond fear. We need images of hope.
Hope is alive and well for young artists and students at several Milwaukee schools. That hope is visible in the current exhibit, “We Speak: An Exhibition on Women’s Rights,” at the Arts @ Large Gallery, 908 S. 5th St.
Hope is inclusive. This exhibit includes student-created work from multiple projects and schools. Young women in each project selected and researched an issue impacting their lives and those of other women, and created compelling art to express their insights into their issue. This show brings these various projects together. Hope grows from people coming together and creating from their different perspectives a coherent vision. Out of many, one.
One of these projects, the work of students at the Alliance School, studied human trafficking both locally and internationally. They created two pieces: “Gender-Based Violence, case studies from around the globe” and “Human Trafficking, a pressing issue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Their work brings to light startling facts about the trafficking of young women: the average age at which a child begins being trafficked for sex is 13 years old; such trafficking happens all too often right here in Milwaukee. Bringing these facts to public attention serves as a first step toward stopping this horrendous child abuse.
Student artists at Pulaski High School and Milwaukee High School of the Arts contributed their work from a Know Thyself project, “We Are Here.” These young women are English-language learners, immigrants and refugees, some of whom have been in the United States for less than a year. Their impressive portraits on brilliantly designed and colored backgrounds claim and express their personal identity and culture. They also recorded their stories of coming to the United States and settling in Milwaukee, stories that can be heard by scanning the QR code included in the exhibit.
The possibilities for hope are alive and well in women around the world who model ways to bring their voices to bear on crucial issues for women and in the young women who celebrate these models. “Cut From the Same Cloth: Celebrating Women of Influence,” is the project of students from Washington High School of Information and Technology. Facilitated by artist Vanessa Andrews, the students created stunning collaged denim portraits of women who have worked toward expanding opportunities for women across all aspects of society. Their choice of denim joins their voices with those of women who wore denim to protest the ruling of Italian judges that a woman’s tight jeans implied a woman’s consent to sexual assault.
Adult survivors of gender-based violence wrote poems as part of Mount Mary University’s Justice Department program “Untold Stories.” Their poems inspired artwork by students from Messmer High School, The Alliance School and Washington High School of Information Technology. The poems and visual art responses comprise a multi-generational component within the exhibit.
Students who worked on these and other projects included in this exhibit learned research skills, learned how to focus and organize information, how to be clear and convincing — all important critical thinking and presentation skills. Because they explore issues that impact their lives and the lives of women they know and love, they are motivated to achieve at a high level. They also learn global consciousness. They learn they can make contributions to improve their lives and the lives of their local, national and international communities.
As they find and express their voices in beautiful and compelling ways, they find hope. They also create hope that is active, inspiring and inclusive. It gathers people together to find strength. It empowers these young students, these young artists, who in turn give me hope. In fact they make my heart take flight and soar.