In June, when the Black Lives Matter protests just began to escalate again in America, and we, ourselves, in the Philippines started rallying, both online and offline, for the eradication of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, many of our conversations at home involved issues regarding social injustice, race, equality and freedom of speech. Naturally, our children had many questions but we saw it as the perfect opportunity to learn about these topics together with them.
MEET THE ARTIST
It was their first time to learn about race, so for our June artist in focus, we decided to learn about another talented and revolutionary artist named Jacob Lawrence. He was someone who used his art to talk about the important aspects of the African American history and experience.
One of his great works is the Migration Series from 1941, where he painted 60 pieces depicting the gruesome racial and economic struggles millions of African Americans faced in the South, how they left that place and moved to the North and West in search of better lives. He portrayed life in those times in a very vibrant and expressive figurative style, making it so compellingly vivid to the viewer. He made it easy to interpret the stories he wished to tell and made them quite so relevant.
Here are more articles and videos you can read and watch with your kids if you wish to dive deeper into the life and work of the Jacob Lawrence:
PROJECT 1: This Is My City
This first project is based on Jacob Lawrence’s piece called “This Is Harlem” which depicts a regular day in Harlem, New York, where over a quarter of a million African Americans have migrated to from the South, including Lawrence’s family. It shows his colorful neighborhood — people walking, local businesses, the traffic, the tenements, a church and many other aspects of their lively culture.
This piece shows how observant Lawrence was. I can just imagine him looking out his window to absorb the smells, sounds and busy scenery in his city. And it also gives you an idea of what life was like during his time growing up in Harlem. Here is another painting of a common scenery in Harlem.
Materials: Construction paper, old magazines, glue, scissors, coloured markers
- It’s your turn to take in the city or town you live in. What’s it like when you look outside your window? What do you see? Are there buildings, houses or malls? Are there many trees? Take time to observe your surroundings. If you have no clear view of the outside world, look at pictures of your town on the internet.
- Based on your observations, create a paper collage of your city. Cut out people or sceneries from old magazines and insert them into your collage. Add as much detail as you can to fully portray the place you live in.
PROJECT 2: Leaping Paper Marionettes
Jacob Lawrence was often inspired to highlight major historical figures in his work. One of those he took inspiration from was Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist and political activist who made it her mission in life to rescue and free slaves. Lawrence created a series of 31 paintings documenting black perseverance and their fight for freedom.
Harriet Tubman #4 appealed to us the most. It portrays four people leaping into the air and somersaulting in complete and utter freedom. Even though the people have no distinct facial features, it’s clear that they are happy in the way their limbs are outstretched and how they seem to be floating in the air.
Inspired by this piece, we created marionettes with outstretched and moveable limbs.
Materials: Cardboard, colored or patterned paper, glue, paint, brads or thread, needle, safety pin, string, stick or wooden ring
- Draw the parts of your marionette (head, torso, arms, legs) on a piece of cardboard (and empty cereal box will do!). Paint then cut out.
- Cut out colored or pattered paper for clothes. Glue them on the body parts.
- Connect the head, arms and legs to the torso using brads or string.
- Attach strings to the hands, feet and the top of the head. Tie the ends to your stick or wooden ring. Make sure there’s enough slack so the limbs can move when you rock the stick or ring.
- Finally, make them leap!
There are many basic things we take for granted, like the roof above our heads, the food we eat, our freedom to dance, leap, sing and speak our minds. We forget that many people did not or still do not have the same liberties we do. Learning about Jacob Lawrence allows us to look closely, not only on the long history of slavery and injustice, but also on why it is important that we continue to fight for freedom and equality for all people. For everybody deserves to leap for joy and live in a city where they can be free to be themselves.
Check out the previous months’ artists in focus:
APRIL: Betye Saar PART 1 | Betye Saar PART 2
MARCH: David Hockney PART 1 | David Hockney PART 2
FEBRUARY: Yayoi Kusama PART 1 | Yayoi Kusama PART 2
JANUARY: Pablo Picasso