Middle School Student Exhibit Examines Art and Culture

A new exhibit in the Anne Reid ‘72 Art Gallery at Princeton Day School, In This Moment, We Are Infinite: An Examination Of Art And Culture, is the gallery's first show featuring PDS Middle School student art. In her second year at PDS, Middle School art teacher Deva Watson has quickly made her mark, revitalizing traditional projects including the 8th Grade self portraits and introducing several new elements to the well-regarded visual art program.

Ms. Watson makes it clear that she intentionally centers her student projects on “examining various cultures and works of art generated from those groups that continue to be made for thousands of years,” and this exhibit showcases some standout examples. From fifth graders’ form work, featuring papier mache masks of Chinese opera faces and Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, to the seventh graders' Islamic hamsas and African Kota clay sculptures, art and culture can be seen in this exhibit mingling and blending into countless shapes and forms.

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"All of the Middle Schoolers have worked so incredibly hard. I am so proud of all of them," Ms. Watson shared. "Sixth graders worked primarily in the print-making medium creating linoleum block cuts of Japanese warriors and Hindu gods. We also created collagraph prints that are of architectural wonders and Maori masks. Two 6th graders worked with me to figure out how to transfer images from magazines using a "gel plate." And 8th graders worked in high-end drawing and painting, creating beautiful stylized portraits based on the artist, Lina Viktor," Ms. Watson noted. "It's an honor and a privilege to see their growth!"

Her inspiration for the exhibit title came from a favorite book during her middle school years, Perks of Being A Wallflower. "The quote, 'in this moment we are infinite,' is a turning point of the book and shows that Charlie, the main character, realizes that becoming outgoing can change your life. Art class was a refuge for me in Middle School, and that is a mutual feeling for many Middle Schoolers now. I hope my class is a place where students can be more outgoing and show their emotions and their own inner strength," Ms. Watson explained.

The notion of the infinite, which stretches throughout art history and culture, was explored by 7th graders through their African Kota sculpture work. Traditionally small sculptures made out of bronze that protect ancestral bones, the sculptures made by students were formed with clay in a similar style yet personalized by each young artist in ways that resonated with their own lives and identities.

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It is through art that history is commemorated, the glories of its people painted in portraits of the great, their identities bound together through intricate patterns carved out in clay, customs and beliefs manifesting into "costumes, masks, vessels, ancestor figurines, altarpieces and staffs," as Ms. Watson says. "From furniture and tapestries to bowls and baskets, art has also figured prominently in domestic life for thousands of years. Moreover, the activities and events taking place within these domestic spaces have been the inspiration for countless artists. Their depictions of everyday life are best understood as complex documents melding real-world observations with ideal social expectations," she states.

When on a family trip to a museum a student elaborated on the “Japanese carp kites ” on display and also explained to their parents the meaning behind them because “they made one in fifth grade,” and when a student on vacation informed staff that their Japanese Daruma dolls on display "were not Russian nesting dolls and the meaning behind them,” Ms. Watson took note of these retold experiences with pride. "These moments offer powerful proof that through their explorations in Middle School art, my students are becoming citizens of the world,” she observes.

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The Middle School student art exhibit runs from January 27 through February 20, 2020 in the Anne Reid '72 Art Gallery. There will be a reception open to the public on January 29, 9:30-10:45am.

Reporting for this story contributed by Linda Qu '22.

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