Girls talking back with art
By Frenche Brewer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-5400
For young girls of a Lexington County juvenile arbitration program, one possible sanction is to have to enroll in an art class, sponsored by the USC Women's Well Being Initiative.
Their art is on display at McKissick Museum, and a reception is set for today at 6 p.m. for the young women who courageously told their personal stories through a variety of media.
The girls come from all socio-economic backgrounds and are one strike away from juvenile jail. They have committed offenses such as shoplifting, fighting, drug use and trespassing.
But, Olga Ivashkevich, a University of South Carolina art education professor and women’s and gender studies program affiliate, has devoted her time to giving these young girls reasons to hold their heads high and giving a voice to the voiceless.
Ivashkevich began a series of feminist art workshops, called “UnLayered,” to engage teenage girls in a dialogue about gender and social justice through issues-based art production.
The girls started with conventional media, constructing collages about their life roadblocks, but couldn’t use their own images because of privacy restrictions requiring them to remain anonymous. But Ivashkevich realized the girls needed a medium in which they could be more visible.
“I really believe that for this population of girls, visibility and voice are major issues,” Ivashkevich said. “Working with animation and video provides them with an important opportunity to talk back to the media representations of ‘bad’ girls and reframe their own image as ‘law offenders.’”
And, it worked. With the help of independent filmmaker Rebecca Boyd, the girls created three video projects. They wrote the scripts and filmed short infomercials for a teen audience on the topics of drug use, drunk driving and body image.
“They participated as actors, learned how to use a video camera and filmed themselves, but because they had to remain anonymous, they could not film their faces,” Ivashkevich said. “It’s still a very artful piece and they came up with creative solutions. At the end there is a positive message to other teens, and that was really empowering.”
Recently, Ivashkevich collaborated with Courtnie Wolfgang, an art education faculty colleague, on the video project, “Occupying Anonymous,” which took girls’ visibility even further. They filmed themselves reading the poems about problems in their lives and dressing up as fictional characters, but this time without masking their faces.
Wolfgang, too, said she is committed to the mission of the arbitration program, which focuses on the positive outcomes as opposed to stigmatizing and identifying girls as “bad” and untrustworthy. The program was initiated in 1983 by Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Donald V. Myers. The Women's Well-Being Initiative at USC plans and facilitates the program four times a year for the young women in the program.
“It’s my belief that art making, performance and writing is just a different way of saying something that they might not have the words for or feel like they have a voice for,” Wolfgang said.
Wolfgang said that the objective of these art workshops is to make youth more aware of their life struggles, realize their strengths and get back on track. Juvenile arbitration program Director Kathryn Barton said it’s working because most girls do not recommit offenses after going through this program.
“We have learned from the evaluations, which the girls complete at the end of the sessions, that the groups have had a positive impact on them,” she said. “Giving them education about choices, having meaningful conversations about drug and alcohol abuse and making them realize they have many possibilities for their future, careers and college opportunities.”
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