Una, age 17

This is a collection of work by Una, a high school student from Raleigh, NC. The school, like many large high schools, has multiple art teachers with different teaching styles. The work featured here is from Una’s classes with TAB teacher Melissa Purtee. Throughout their years in art class, Una explored identity, focusing on personally meaningful themes of LGBTQ+ and mental health issues. Their work shows serious intention towards expressive artworks, which all emerged during Junior and Senior years. Una, like all students in the program, was asked to reflect on work throughout various art classes. In what follows, we share their written reflections of their artmaking process and finished products, as well as a reflection written three years after graduation.

High school student's collage

My collage is a depiction of House Bill 2 [North Carolina’s transgender “bathroom bill”], a controversial subject that has been in the news very often these last few months. I cut and pasted newspaper headlines and articles, as well as magazine backgrounds, to show my view of the Bill and the people that are a part of it. This topic has often come up in conversation with my friends and a few ex-friends, causing a lot of conflict with the separate thoughts on it. I wanted to create this collage to get my emotions out and show my views, since I don’t always get the chance to speak out.

High school student's collage

This piece is a visual representation of what the entertainment media would be without LGBTQ peoples. People love these shows and movies but still make anti-LGBT comments either on the down-low or out and proudly. By using the censored bar over the LGBT actors and/or characters, I show the viewer what their favorite shows and films would be without these actors. Not only that, but the bar also portrays how the media hides the fact that these people are indeed LGBT. Some of them are activists in the community, but the media doesn’t cover them as much. They are censored.

High school student's drawing that explores identity.

I explored the symbol of] the yin-yang. I see it overused all over the place. Oftentimes people morph the idea of this good in the bad and bad in the good to create a harmony, as a sign of love in relationships between the “good girl” and the “bad boy.” I also see it as best friend necklaces and little doodles for paper or a sign of peace. I see it as the struggle of a person with mental illness when they are finally in equilibrium with their mind. It shows the bad in the good, how the pink person has (subtle) scars on their wrist, and the good in the bad where the blue person is crying and letting themself smile. Together, they make the person that they are.

Reflections on high school art as a college senior

I struggled with my identity a lot in high school. Back then I didn’t have a very accepting, healthy space for me to be open with my family and I bottled a lot of emotions because of that. Art became a solace to me. I could use it to play with my identity, to express my feelings about myself and my family life, and to have something to look forward to every day when I’d go to school. Being given a creative space that gave me artistic freedom allowed me to just take a breath and give myself something. I wasn’t doing art for the grade or had to be forced into an assignment I didn’t care for, it was truly for me. The most important experiences I had at that age were in spaces that made me feel heard, allowed me to learn style and technique at my own pace, and gave me the liberty to create what I wanted to create. It gave me freedom, comfort, and an extra bit of joy every day that I would get to be in that space and to this day, I believe that it’s what really helped hold me together throughout my high school career.