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High school students convey deep messages with art


How did Hinsdale Central senior Anushka Nair get to Carnegie Hall in 2017?

The old “Practice, practice, practice” is not an adequate response. In her case the practice would be more accurately described as “Observe, sketch, draw and paint. Sketch. Draw. Paint. Repeat; repeat; repeat.”

She was one of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards National Teen Recipients last year for a painting she did entitled “Shifting Perspective,” and so she found herself being recognized in New York City, in Carnegie Hall specifically.

Her submission showed a young woman wearing hajib and an overcoat standing in a bathroom, her hand to the mirror in a gesture of “Enough!” a gesture that says “I am tired of looking at you.”

The painting has to do with frustration over body image, and Nair was awarded the “Flaunt It” prize for her work.

Nearly nine months later, Nair has her college applications in at art schools where she is hoping to major in animation art. She and another Hinsdale Central senior, Julia Baroni, both took AP Studio Art last year and pushed to do independent studies for their art class this year.

The two of them and just a small number of other Hinsdale Central art students recently participated in the Illinios High School Art Education Senior Scholarship exhibit in the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago.

Nair aspires to go into the animated art field, and a quick look through her Instagram portfolio reveals a depth of talent and maturity that is impressive and affecting. Nair is a first generation American. Her parents are from Kerala, India.

“I come from a culture that has a longstanding tradition of vivid oratory and folklore,” she writes in her artist’s statement.

That sense of story, of narrative, is plain in her animated pieces. Steam coming off the tea illuminates the man’s haunted and concerned face. There is a story there.

“My artwork focuses on the feeling of not belonging,” she wrote.

She conveys the subject’s feeling of being different, but I believe she invites the viewer to sympathize in a non-threatening way. She has the ability to strike a common, human nerve in all of us.

Her awareness of who she is as well as her own distinctiveness is apparent in both speaking with her and viewing her work. In many of the pieces I saw she is portrayed as a smiling and cheerful teenager, and yet when I asked for a self-portrait, she submitted a serious one of a young woman, barely illuminated, deep in thought.

Nair was always that child who was hunched over sketching and drawing wherever she went, and her parents and grandparents and family have always encouraged her.

“I’m very grateful and lucky to have the complete, 100 percent support of my whole family,” she said.

They understand her passion and have not discouraged it.

Baroni’s route next year is going to be a little different from Nair’s. She said she wants to pursue both academic and art education so she will be going to Tufts University in Cambridge, Massachusetts to earn a bachelor’s in fine arts as well as either a bachelor’s in science or in arts.

I first saw Baroni when she was exhibiting at the Robert Crown Gallery Night on a cold January evening in 2017. She was the only teenage artist that evening among a varied and eclectic group showing their works.

She was on the verge of winning Scholastic Art awards and was in the midst of her AP Studio Art year-long project, which took the 2005 essay of Princeton philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfort entitled “On Bulls***.”

Baroni deconstructed the essay, explained why bulls*** is worse than lying, and portrayed all of that visually as a comic book, if you will. Currently she drawing and working on another comic book about fishbowls as a metaphor for self-awareness. She said she likes to work with minimal words, but she does work with words.

For Baroni, using visual art is an effective and efficient way to convey deep and rather complex ideas, and that is her purpose. Her purpose is not to visual representations of a scene but representations of things intangible.

Good luck to both of them. Teenagers locally and nationally are impressing me with their commitment to higher ideals be they philosophical or political.

Sara Clarkson is a freelance columnist for Pioneer Press.



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