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My Name Is...

My Name Is...

Martingrove CI art project features cross-cultural reflections on identity

Monday, November 27, 2017
Categories: Great Things, Happenings @ TDSB, School Web Stories

Grade 11 and 12 art students from Martingrove CI had the unique opportunity to display their work for theatre-goers at a production mounted at the Toronto Centre for the Arts’ Greenwin Theatre. The exhibit was featured during the run of My Name is Asher Lev and showcased multidisciplinary works, including paintings, drawings, installations, and sculpture.  The student works focussed on the universal theme of identity, which is central to the play and to the 1970s novel by Chaim Potok on which it is based. The play centres on Asher Lev, a young Jewish boy with artistic ability growing up in 1950s New York City whose artistic sensibility creates conflict with his family and community. 

“The My Name Is… project began with a good idea, a leap of faith into the unknown, and a partnership between Studio 180 Theatre, the Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and the art department at Martingrove CI,” said the west-end high school’s art teacher and assistant curriculum leader, Christina Yarmol. She received a call from Jessica Greenberg, Core Artistic Team member for Studio 180, who proposed the idea to get kids to create artwork on theme of identity. 

“Students began with the question ‘who am I?’ and discussed facets of their lives that form their identities,” explained Yarmol. Students pinpointed two basic categories that define self: factors and conditions that an individual is born with/into, such as family, nationality, ethnic heritage, race, religion/spirituality, disability, gender and embodiment; and lived experiences, including education, pastimes or interests, trends, political convictions, sexual identity, culture, peer group, and key life incidents. 

Students quickly saw that different combinations of these factors contribute to establishing identity. They also recognized that a person’s identity attributes can change throughout a lifetime. 

Students then began a historical and contemporary study of art. They learned how notable artists from both past and present use their artwork to express, explore, and question ideas about identity. Students later watched the play, but only after their work was completed “The art is truly from them,” said Yarmol.

For Ashlee G, the pop art genre resonated and is reflected in her piece titled Out of Hand, a 16” x 20” acrylic on canvas self-portrait.  She uses the vibrant colours, clearly defined forms and precise lines that are a hallmark of pop art. “I wanted my work to be striking, bold, and modern, and to challenge myself to step away from realism,” she explained.“While creating this piece… I decided to focus on the things I do and how they shape my identity….The image of my right hand holding a pencil is meant to represent how I use the things I do as creative outlets.  The explosion from the pencil tip represents the immense power and potential that ideas hold.”

The project taught her that a person's identity is influenced by a number of factors. "In terms of my own personal identity, I had to think about what makes me who I am. I came to the conclusion that although my personality, values, and interests will morph and shift as I move through life, my love of creating things will never change."

Martingrove CI is a diverse school with students from a variety of cultural backgrounds who speak some 100 different languages collectively, so the work reflects deeply personal experiences, yet common threads emerge. 

Snapshot by Naba K is a 24” x 20” acrylic on board that speaks to the prevalence of social media for today’s youth. “This work expresses how media, through its ability to connect people, introduce you to new interests, and fundamentally change you as a person, has made me who I am today.”  The Instagram-inspired image is a close-up of the artist’s face. The angle allows the viewer to see inside the artist, “into my personality, my interests, and who I am as a person….This artwork represents how I’m no longer afraid to embrace and share parts of me.”

Justin A. was intrigued to see the different processes and styles that classmates use to express themselves. “The variety of styles surprised me.  We are all so different but we are still really, really good at expressing ourselves.”  His own work, titled Inside, is 20” x 22” featuring markers, pens, graphite, and charcoal. Inspired by an artist named Vexx, it utilizes realism and graffiti. “There are a lot of symbols on my work about myself,” explained the student. “For example, the sun and the three stars symbolize my nationality, which is Filipino. I used graffiti style to express my…personality.” He added that the project helped him to think about attitudes and personality. “My family is different than Asher’s because they support my desire to create art and allow me to select my own subject matter in my art.”

Alexander C. was inspired by artists of the Dutch Golden Age, such as Vermeer and Hals, for his Self-portrait at Age Sixteen. “These artists usually depicted the sitter with dignity, despite them being lower class individuals of society, such as humble peasants or merchants.” The 10” x 10” acrylic on wood shows the artist wearing a black leather jacket. A stack of books on a small table balances the composition and symbolizes the artist’s interest in history.  

Studio 180 and the Harold Green Jewish Theatre hosted an official opening of the exhibit on November 8, where selected students spoke before seeing a performance of the play. Its run wrapped up on November 25, but students and others will still be able to see the works at an annual art show held by Martingrove CI in winter 2018.


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