Liberty High School– Inspired by Clemente–Inspired by India
My name is Ankita Mishra, and I have been a Teaching Artist here at the Rubin Museum through the Thinking Through Art (TTA) program for almost three years. What always strikes me at the close of a semester is not just the overwhelming sense of calm, pride, and exhaustion, but the knowledge that I have experienced something authentically new and refreshing. No matter how many classrooms and lessons I facilitate, not one is the same as the last.
I taught two residencies at the nearby Liberty Highschool for Newcomers on 18th Street between 7th and 8th aves. One was a standard residency on par with my previous Thinking Through Art experiences– that is, approximately 6 to 8 weeks long, with me visiting the classroom once a week. Alongside this I taught a shorter residency just three sessions long with a Health class. One of the beauties of the TTA Program for me is this interdisciplinary aspect, where Himalayan art from our collection gets a chance to connect to all subjects of study.
For instance, Ms. Lei’s 10th grade Health class was a mix of students from all backgrounds: Haitian, Egyptian, Chinese, Dominican, and Pakistani, to name a few. Our project was to make amulets, filling them with healing spices and wishes for good health. Through this project we discussed the function and significance of a Mandala and focused on ways and goals to better oneself. This idea resonated with my students immensely. My favorite lessons with this class took place at the museum, seated in front of a mandala on the 5th floor. Students were given Mandala worksheets and asked to fill them in with drawings of what was healthy and what was not, placing themselves at the center of this Mandala. At the end of the workshop, we folded each mandala into a square, filling them with healing spices and wishes for the future, and then wrapped them with colored string. Some students even chose to make them into necklaces, and wore them proudly throughout the day.
For Ms. Burd’s classroom, the project was slightly longer and more involved, lasting about 6 weeks. Their workshop was directly inspired by Francesco Clemente’s paintings and the billboard-style watercolor posters found in India. Again, the students were asked to take their personal life experiences and connect them to Clemente’s pieces. They responded well to the storytelling aspect of the workshop– the most special and compelling part about working with students from so many different backgrounds are their personal stories. What proved to be more challenging was taking their stories and translating them into visual symbols. Ms. Burd and I worked closely with the students to help them find a symbol that helped express what they wanted to relate to others. Because the students at Liberty vary in English literacy levels, the one-on-one approach proved to be extremely useful in this classroom.
At the end of the workshop, Ms. Burd’s students all gathered at the Education Center during their class period to present their work formally. This chance to reflect and observe each student’s work is a feature of the longer residencies that I truly enjoy. This particular class, unlike some others that I’ve taught, was a bit more timid. They responded to lots of positive reinforcement from their peers (at one point I and some other teachers had to push them into it). Mic in hand, they each told us about their personal symbols and elaborated on their stories. Though each classroom is different, I ended this semester with a full heart as always. Watching my students succeed at connecting to the content I had presented to them and overcome their fear of public speaking (in a language they were not yet confident speaking in) was the biggest accomplishment of all.