Westover students share art with Afghan peers

Nia Gilmore Memory Project Artwork. Contributed

The pandemic has been made it difficult to form and maintain new connections with others during this time of isolation and social distancing, but an assignment that Westover School art teacher Sara Poskas gave to her Drawing I students has actually helped create a special bond between them and their counterparts in Afghanistan, half a world away.

This fall, Poskas’s four students — sophomores Jemima Paolucci of Washington, Charlotte Brown of Watertown, Nia Gilmore of Seattle, and Hayden Harlow of Goshen — took part in a global art exchange for an international non-profit organization called The Memory Project. “In this one-on-one exchange,” according to The Memory Project’s website, “American students engage in artistic peacebuilding by sharing handmade, heartfelt artwork with kids from countries that are culturally very different from the USA.” This year, students exchange artwork with their peers in Afghanistan, Russia, Pakistan, Syria, and Nigeria.

Poskas had heard about The Memory Project several years ago, and pandemic conditions created the opportunity to incorporate it into her Drawing curriculum. Poskas has been pleased with the results. “My students have been fully engaged in the Global Art Exchange Project, and each one is finding her way as an artist as she works from home.” As the students worked on the project’s assignments, she added, “we checked in on Zoom to share thoughts and intentions, as well as to address any questions.”

Each of Poskas’s four students were paired with a female Afghan student whose artwork was shared with them through The Memory Project. The Westover students were then asked to create artwork in response to the Afghan students’ work, drawing in any media they chose to make their images. “It is a bit of a conversation, if you like, between two people who have never met,” Poskas explained.

“The girl I was making art for was only 11,” Paolucci said, “but her drawing was mature and sweet.”

“I definitely felt connected to the girls after seeing their artwork and faces,” Harlow said. “Their artwork was really incredible and I love the hope it displayed.”

Afghan student art work for Nia Gilmore. Contributed

“I was impressed by how many different ways their art was communicated,” Gilmore said, “whether in words or in drawings. It gave me a new perspective on the situations of others and the importance of art and peace to them.”

Brown was inspired by the artistry of the Afghan student with whom she was paired. “I loved her artwork,” she said. “She was able to bring life to the landscape she drew. She created a landscape of mountains, so I wanted to connect with hers while also portraying what space I felt calm and peace in, so I created a sunrise over the ocean.” For Brown, the suns rising over different environments symbolized “that there is always hope.”

The project was such a success that Poskas plans to include it again for students taking her Drawing I course during the spring semester, though they may be working with students from one of the other countries included in this year’s program.

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