THS stu­dents cre­ate por­traits for Afghan or­phans,

THS art club stu­dents send hand­made por­traits to Afghan or­phans

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Aaron Brand ■ Texarkana Gazette

Imag­ine some­one smil­ing more than 7,000 miles away be­cause of art you make es­pe­cially for them. Texas High School art club mem­bers re­cently ex­pe­ri­enced this transcon­ti­nen­tal artis­tic con­nec­tion with young or­phans in Afghanistan.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in The Mem­ory Project, THS art club artists this past year re­ceived pho­tos of se­lected chil­dren, and with those pho­tos as a guide they painted and drew re­al­is­tic por­traits to give to the chil­dren.

Once fin­ished here, Texas High School’s art club then joined other groups with this spe­cial art de­liv­ery by send­ing 15 por­traits to The Mem­ory Project, a char­i­ta­ble non­profit art or­ga­ni­za­tion that, ac­cord­ing to its web­site, strives to “cul­ti­vate global kind­ness” by bring­ing art to these chil­dren.

They’re chil­dren who face a bar­rage of in­com­pre­hen­si­ble chal­lenges like poverty and vi­o­lence. Only re­cently did the THS stu­dents see the joy and won­der their artis­tic gift in­spired in those chil­dren.

The Mem­ory Project sent a video that shows por­traits be­ing de­liv­ered. THS art teacher Shea Phillips said art club stu­dents can see at least three of their por­traits in the footage, which shows dozens of chil­dren wel­com­ing the art with both cu­rios­ity and en­thu­si­asm.

A video mes­sage ex­plains how the por­traits were brought to the chil­dren, who live in a place that’s been rav­aged by armed con­flict for many years.

“We tried to de­liver them in late June, but the travel routes were too dan­ger­ous. So like the chil­dren, your por­traits waited and waited un­til fi­nally, in late Au­gust, we used a small plane to fly them over the vi­o­lence be­low and into the chil­dren’s hands,” reads the Mem­ory Project mes­sage in the video.

The video shows Afghan chil­dren flash­ing smiles and bub­bling with laugh­ter as the por­traits are dis­trib­uted.

“Thanks to your con­tri­bu­tions, we were able to give $4,000 to sup­port their ed­u­ca­tion in ad­di­tion to the 2,600 por­traits you made just for them. Thank you for all your hard work,” the video con­tin­ues.

Get­ting in­volved with this project is just one of sev­eral ways the art club works to be com­mu­nity con­scious, an out­growth of think­ing glob­ally and act­ing lo­cally, said Phillips, who first worked

with The Mem­ory Project while study­ing at Univer­sity of North Texas.

“We started think­ing about ways that we could help the com­mu­nity through art com­mu­nity ser­vice,” Phillips said. They painted pic­tures for the Friend­ship Cen­ter, held a dona­tion drive for the bat­tered women’s shel­ter and made art for an an­i­mal shel­ter.

Then she dis­cussed a new pos­si­bil­ity, The Mem­ory Project, with art club pres­i­dent Vic­to­ria Van, think­ing on an in­ter­na­tional scale.

“They work with or­phan­ages in Third World coun­tries or just im­pov­er­ished ar­eas,” Phillips said. “They work in sev­eral dif­fer­ent re­gions: Pak­istan, Syria, South Amer­ica, even in parts of Rus­sia, as well.” These or­phans don’t have worldly pos­ses­sions. “They’ve got noth­ing.”

It was Vic­to­ria’s idea to make art for or­phans in Afghanistan, specif­i­cally. The Mem­ory Project sent full-color pho­tos of the chil­dren to the art club.

“The idea is to cre­ate just the best, most re­al­is­tic por­trait that you can pos­si­bly do,” Phillips said. When send­ing it back, the artist at­taches his or her own photo and in­cludes some per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. A fee cov­ers the de­liv­ery costs be­cause many of the chil­dren live in re­mote ar­eas.

“Then they ba­si­cally hand de­liver these por­traits back to the chil­dren and in the video that’s been on so­cial me­dia it kind of shows their re­ac­tion, which is price­less and made it all worth it,” Phillips said, not­ing the club is al­ready think­ing about the next round of por­traits to make. “I think it’s go­ing to be an an­nual thing now.”

Her stu­dents en­joyed do­ing it, par­tic­u­larly see­ing it all come full cir­cle and “see­ing it re­ceived with love,” the art teacher said. Vic­to­ria wanted the art club to branch out and help folks in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“I de­cided to go with Afghanistan be­cause I al­ways see on the news in the me­dia how that coun­try is por­trayed as war-torn and re­ally bad, and you don’t ever see the good things over there,” Vic­to­ria said. The in­no­cent chil­dren in­spired her.

“I wanted to bring them some hap­pi­ness in their lives that they don’t usu­ally get ev­ery day,” Vic­to­ria said, not­ing that once they started the stu­dent artists be­came in­vested in the project. They only had the briefest of in­for­ma­tional back­grounds about each or­phan.

“We got their name and their fa­vorite color and that’s all we knew about them, but we were still able to kind of get emo­tion­ally at­tached,” Vic­to­ria said.

They could in­cor­po­rate that fa­vorite color, and for each por­trait, they wanted to make the most of it. Vic­to­ria her­self made five por­traits (“It was worth it,” she says), striv­ing to stay true to the pho­tos sent. She aimed for re­al­ism. Vic­to­ria’s or­phan ages ranged from around 3 years old to teens.

“I wanted to kind of cap­ture their fa­cial ex­pres­sion the way it was. I wasn’t try­ing to al­ter it or any­thing, just kind of keep that pure essence of what they had,” Vic­to­ria said. It’s more per­sonal if it’s a por­trait, she ob­serves. She used col­ored pen­cils be­cause it was the best way to cap­ture their skin tones cor­rectly and be more cre­ative with the back­ground.

“We had mainly col­ored pen­cil, paint and just reg­u­lar graphite pen­cil,” Phillips said. Stu­dents worked with the medium where they had the most con­fi­dence. Most mem­bers grid­ded their por­traits, hand draw­ing square by square.

“Cap­tur­ing the like­ness of the child was very, very im­por­tant to us,” Phillips said. They didn’t want to take too much cre­ative li­cense. “Our Western at­ti­tudes on art may not line up with the chil­dren in Afghanistan, so we didn’t want to do pur­ple peo­ple or sur­re­al­ist por­traits or any­thing like that,” she said.

The por­traits were made on pa­per so the chil­dren could be mo­bile with them. Af­ter all, they may not have their own space where it can hang. They may move.

But the art is spe­cial to the chil­dren, some­thing to keep safe and se­cure.

“Here in Amer­ica we have all these ma­te­ri­al­is­tic things like phones and tablets and things like that lit­tle chil­dren just at­tach to, but the chil­dren over there they don’t have those types of ma­te­ri­als or op­por­tu­ni­ties to get those things. So even some­thing so per­son­al­ized like a por­trait of them­selves is some­thing they’re able to keep on their own and that can’t re­ally be taken away from them,” Vic­to­ria said.

Phillips was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with The Mem­ory Project be­cause the non­profit group is easy to work with and has a great sup­port team, she ex­plained.

“We got per­sonal, one-onone con­tact with some­body that was rep­re­sen­ta­tive of The Mem­ory Project. They made it re­ally easy,” she said. They also un­der­stand the fi­nan­cial strug­gles of a Ti­tle I school, she said. The cost can be a bur­den, she said, be­cause of the $15-per-por­trait de­liv­ery fee dona­tion. Here again, the stu­dents were the ones who gave.

“The chil­dren that par­tic­i­pated paid it them­selves,” Phillips said.

As for Vic­to­ria, what does she hope these or­phans re­ceive via the art sent by a stranger thou­sands of miles away?

“I hope that they know there’s some­body al­ways think­ing about them,” Vic­to­ria said. De­spite their sit­u­a­tion, some­one won’t for­get about them, some­one will keep tabs on how they’re do­ing.

And the project also gave the artists some­thing. What they re­ceived was an emo­tional link.

“I felt like it hu­man­ized us a lot be­cause we think about our­selves a lot and our own art and stuff like that, but this was some­thing that was vol­un­tary and we did it for some­one else and there’s no ma­te­ri­al­is­tic gain out of it,” Vic­to­ria said.

The teacher agrees. It’s about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence in some­one’s life through art.

“I just think it’s im­por­tant to give chil­dren an op­por­tu­nity to show em­pa­thy to other peo­ple and to build com­mu­ni­ties within our schools. This project re­ally brought us all to­gether,” Phillips said.

“To­wards a pur­pose, it was big­ger than our­selves. My hope is that they kind of have this dif­fer­ent con­nec­tion to the world and per­haps they view things a lit­tle dif­fer­ently.”

Sub­mit­ted photo

■ Texas High School stu­dent Vic­to­ria Van poses with one of the por­traits she made de­pict­ing an or­phan in Afghanistan. THS art club mem­bers worked with The Mem­ory Project to de­liver 15 por­traits to or­phans.

Staff photo by Hunt Mercier

■ Art club pres­i­dent Vic­to­ria Van, left, and Texas High School art teacher Shea Phillips pose for a por­trait. The Texas High School art club re­cently par­tic­i­pated in The Mem­ory Project, a project of send­ing por­traits to Afghan or­phans.

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