Middle School Art Explores Culture, Representation and Identity

Princeton Day School Middle School Seventh and Eighth grade artists explored African textile weaving and inspiring female artists throughout the spring. Taught by MS Art teacher Deva Watson, each grade level's studies emphasized learning not only techniques but also exploring the culture, history and impact of artistic expression.

The Seventh Grade African textile weaving unit introduced students to West African practices, including indigo dyeing, which has become a mainstay of art and fashion. Working with a small loom, each student weaved a 10x12-inch textile incorporating approaches learned in class. "Each student had the freedom to choose their own adventure when it came to this project, and I was impressed with how many ran with it and challenged themselves. The result was a number of beautiful weavings that truly showed the personality of the student artists," Ms. Watson shared.

Simran Malik '26 was one of the students who embraced the freedom of the project. Fueled by her developing passion for weaving and ceramics, Simran chose to create a work in memory of her grandmother. Simran's weaving (pictured below) was selected to be published in the Johns Hopkins' Lexophilia Journal for the Center for Talented Youth.

student art project

Ms. Watson's Eighth Grade art unit focused on "1,000 women artists," exploring the history of women in art as well as the evolution of feminist art. The course examined issues pertaining to the representation of women in art, including the fact that the work of just 3% of women artists is exhibited, yet 85% of art pieces traditionally features women. "Representation in art continues to be traditionally European, in which women are still often the object, but the traditions are also now changing," Ms. Watson noted.

One of the key artists covered in this unit was Judy Chicago, an American feminist artist. Ms. Watson fashioned the capstone project for this unit after Chicago's permanent installation in the Brooklyn Museum, "The Dinner Party." 

"Judy Chicago's 'Dinner Party' portrays a large table with personalized table settings that symbolize each woman at the table. Each element of the individual place settings represents an aspect of the subject's personality," Ms. Watson shared.

For the Eighth Grade, Ms. Watson assigned students to create their own place setting and plate, either with clay or paint, using Chicago's work as a model. Five students chose to make their plates using clay in the ceramics studio while four students chose to paint their entire setting.

"For this project, I asked students to consider the questions, 'what would your seat at the table look like?' and 'What aspects of yourself can't be seen but can be felt?' Ms. Watson stated. "This project encouraged both introspection and self-understanding for each student and the results were works that represented each student extremely well," she concluded.

student art project painting
student art gallery

Photos (from top): Two sets of three Seventh Grade textiles; Simran's weaving; close-up of three examples of Eighth Grade student place settings; Ms. Watson with the Eighth Grade version of "The Dinner Party"

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