Grandview Heights High School students try to 'Amplify' issue of racial justice through art exhibit

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Grandview first-grader Harry Fox, 7, and his mother, Julie, discuss  the symbolism in artwork created Columbus artist Lisa McLymont and displayed at an exhibit called Amplify on May 16 at Grandview Heights High School. The exhibit was organized by junior Maria Sipes and sophomore Janira Skrbkova was to showcase artwork by local Black, Indigenous and people of color.

Two Grandview Heights High School students curated an exhibition that turned the school auditorium into an art gallery for three days.

The exhibit, Amplify, was designed to spotlight the work of Columbus-based BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) artists.

The project grew from an independent-study class that gave students an opportunity to explore and discuss issues relating to racial justice.

The exhibition was presented May 16 to the public and remained open to students during school hours the following two days.

Amplify was a significant and purposeful choice for the exhibition's title, said junior Maria Sipes, who organized the art show with sophomore Janira Skrbkova.

Grandview Heights High School junior Nina Brown views artwork at an exhibit called Amplify on May 16 at Grandview Heights High School. The exhibit was organized by junior Maria Sipes and sophomore Janira Skrbkova was to showcase artwork by local Black, Indigenous and people of color.

"We wanted to amplify and give attention to BIPOC artists who have been slighted and ignored in the past," Sipes said.

"We were having a hard time coming up with a title," Skrbkova said. "We were talking one day with the teachers who were assisting us and one of them asked us what was the main purpose of the show we were putting together. We said it was to amplify the work of artists of color, and that was it – we had our title."

The exhibition featured the work of five Columbus-area artists – Lisa McLymont, Aminah Robinson, Evan Williams, Brenden Spivey and the comic book works of Vantage: InHouse Productions, which is owned by local artist Victor Dandridge.

"We also featured some works by students that were inspired or influenced by the work of BIPOC artists or addressed issues relating to racial injustice," Sipes said.

Grandview Heights resident Melonie Luckenbach views artwork created by Columbus artist Aminah Robinson and displayed at an exhibition called Amilify on May 16 at Grandview Heights High School. The exhibit was organized by junior Maria Sipes and sophomore Janira Skrbkova was to showcase artwork by local Black, Indigenous and people of color.

The students put together a magazine offering background information about the featured artists and the student artwork. 

"I'm really interested in art history so when we were brainstorming about projects we could do for our independent study class, I wanted to research the history of artists of color and Janira wanted to do an art show, so we kind of put our ideas together," Sipes said.

As the child of a Black mother and white father, Skrbkova said issues relating to racial justice are important to her.

Previous generations mostly were taught and presented "the white male canon," she said, but students now are exposed to more diverse writers and artists in school.

It was important to present a show like Amplify in Grandview, Skrbkova said.

"We were able to give people in Grandview a chance to view some art and artists they wouldn't otherwise know about," she said. 

Art offers a pathway for self-reflection and to consider the voices and visions of artists who may have a different perspective from the viewer, Skrbkova said.

Sipes said putting together Amplify was satisfying because it provided her and Skrbkova with an avenue to voice their perspective on racial justice.

"It's an opportunity to make a difference in a small way," she said.

About 20 students participated in the racial justice independent-study course during the second semester, English teacher Kevin McCarthy said. 

McCarthy, English teacher Bethany Black and Marc Alter, director of 21st century learning, advised Skrbkova and Sipes during the project.

"Some students chose to participate in the course from an educational standpoint and others in a more active, project-based way," McCarthy said.

Other student projects included a group who visited Stevenson Elementary to talk with the younger students about diversity; a research project to consider how the diversity of housing opportunities in Grandview could be increased and a group that put together a presentation they made to middle school students, McCarthy said.

The level of interest in the independent study course "speaks to the fact that there is a conscientiousness among our students about the inequality issue and that they want to do something about it," he said.

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