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Abbotsford Senior Art Activism class examines racism

Paintings related to subject on display at The Reach until June 11

Just over a year ago, George Floyd was murdered and his brutal death led to reflection and self-examination for our southern neighbours.

Last week, the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops has created more dialogue and disgust on past practices towards local First Nations.

It’s in that spirit that the Abbotsford Senior Secondary School’s Art Activism program set to tackle the challenging topic of racism for this past quarter.

Led by art teacher Miss Nikita Griffioen, students from Grades 10 to 12 spent the first half of the course learning both the historical and current climates for racism. From there, students narrowed their focus to a more specific topic, researched that topic intently and make a presentation to the class.

The second half of the course was creating an art piece based on the topic they became so familiar with. Students created paintings to bring more awareness to their particular issue and those works of art are on display at The Reach in Abbotsford until June 11.

Some of the topics featured include: the racist history of the music industry, housing struggles due to race, the struggles faced by LGTBQ+ people of colour, the beauty industry’s impossible white standards and the relationship between police and people of colour.

“Every year I focus on a different social justice issue,” Griffioen said, of the Art Activism program. “And I try to focus on the the ones that are most prevalent in the moment. This year, given the George Floyd story, and the emphasis on racism and being anti-racist in the news I thought it would be appropriate to focus on the topic of racism.”

Griffioen said it’s a topic her students were very passionate about and they were on-board with the idea instantly.

“This was also about having students do a lot of reflection as well,” she said. “The journey to becoming anti-racist isn’t an overnight thing. It’s wonderful to say you don’t want to be racist or you want to advocate for BIPOC people but at the same time it does take some work and thought.”

RELATED: PHOTOS: Abbotsford reflects on horrific findings at former residential school in Kamloops

She said the learning environment at Abbotsford Senior created a lot of dialogue surrounding the issues.

“We have such a wonderful and diverse school and have students from all different backgrounds so oftentimes their art was influenced by their personal stories and experiences,” she said.

Griffioen, a well-established artist herself, said she was thrilled with some of the final products created by her students.

“I made my expectations very clear at the beginning of the course that this is a big project and it will be shown publicly,” she said. “So to do that the art has to be of a good caliber. I was extremely impressed by those who did a painting. They were asking for critiques and reworking their ideas - I was super impressed to see how they worked at such a mature level.”

Starting on June 15, Art Activism students from Robert Bateman Senior Secondary will display their works in the same space. Led by teacher Claire Apostolopoulos, Bateman students will also focus on racism and Black Lives Matter.

Griffioen said the project left her feeling positive about local youth.

“The willingness and passion of the students and young people to really advocate for a cause like this was truly inspiring to see as an educator,” she said. “It makes you hopeful to see that young people are taking on these topics and really embodying anti-racism because they are where the future lies.”

Griffioen also praised the help of student teacher Trish Roberts, who worked with students throughout the course. The class consists of Grade 12 students Simmi Boparai, Niki Kasper and Tiffany Reitsma; Grade 11 students Sarah Bourquin, Sean Briones, Jillian Downey, Oliver Jolliffe, Hanna Kim and Cynthia Pain; and Grade 10 students Tiffany Cruz, Faith Dueck, Jennifer Guthrie and C. Luu.

RELATED: MindFull exhibition focusing on Corey Hirsch’s mental health battles

The work of Abbotsford Senior Art Activism students is on display at The Reach until June 11. (Submitted)

Ben Lypka

About the Author: Ben Lypka

I joined the Abbotsford News in 2015.
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