Artistic Noise gives youth in the juvenile justice system the opportunity to document their lives and express themselves through the visual arts. Their nine-month program includes life and job skills training, and culminates in an art show at a gallery. Right now Storytellers is on exhibit at the Commons Gallery. Its tagline is “No Words Necessary, Our Stories Speak,” so I was quite surprised to find that text was a central component of many of the art works.

Most to the point was the collection “Spectrum Life,” which had girls living in Spectrum Detention in Dorchester, Massachusetts represent their daily lives through photography. They then used Photoshop to integrate text into their images. There are photos of the objects and places central to the girls’ lives: three metal sinks that eighteen girls share and clean twice a day; a lonely little cot; the desk where staff members sit either to talk on the phone or to keep an eye on residents. The haunting absence of people is what stands out in those images. Even when the girls themselves are photographed, they turn their backs on the viewer. Still, there is an effort to articulate an identity and to challenge preconceptions. A portrait of two girls side by side reads, “Plenty of girls come in & out…Some share similarities, some don’t… But we all have one thing in common, for whatever reason we ended up here…” Another portrait bears the inscription “Just because we’re here doesn’t mean we’re bad. We’re all just kids with different stories to tell.”

“Found in New York” encourages young artists to create “found poems” and collages with clippings from newspapers and magazines. It is an interesting way to get people who might be intimidated by the writing process to think about language. The exercise specifies that the poems do not need to make sentences or convey something that necessarily “makes sense.” Some of the pieces touched on violence, but one collage mused on Monday morning breakfasts.

One particularly powerful project put youth in partnership with the Bronx Family Court. The artists were given a copy of Family Law, a text used in New York State’s Family Court, to use and repurpose in any way they desired. I cannot do justice to every piece in the collection so I will mention just one that played with light and dark spaces, words, voice, and silence. The artist Erwuen took a page of Family Law and blacked out almost everything but the word statement. He comments, “My view of this piece is that a statement can be very dark. The statement is very small and the darkness covers most of it. A statement in the courtroom can sometimes make silence. I silenced the court of law by blocking it out.” Think of the conversations that this one work can spur!

Do drop by Commons Gallery and spend half an hour to view these works and more. The show closes tomorrow.


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