Looking back at the teenage years can easily conjure the memory of a carefully kept journal or pages of angst-ridden poetry. But for some, the work of their teens will receive a much larger audience. The Truly Valued: Who Am I? exhibit premiering at M. Chapel Projects gallery this month features artwork from a group of teenage girls turned local artists.
Truly Valued is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit that mentors middle and high school girls in programs focused on building self-esteem and positive self-image. Its executive director, Shavonne Simon, and artist Marianne Chapel collaborated on a project that would pair Chapel with eight girls, ages 13 to 16, whose task was to create artwork centered on the idea of confidence and identity.
For Chapel, the project was the perfect opportunity to work with a topic she had been studying: socially engaged art.
“It’s making art within your community with other individuals, who are non-artists,” Chapel says. “This was to move away from the idea of an painting or a sculpture; it also addresses an issue more commonly dealt with by a sociologist or therapist. When an artist starts working in these specific areas, they draw more attention to the issue at hand.”
Chapel notes that the girls she worked with all come from marginalized communities, where they face racial or economic discrimination. She points to the relevance of this project with national conversations surrounding intersectional feminism.
“In this age, with the #MeToo movement, there is a resurgence of a feminist moment from the ‘60s,” Chapel says. “We’ve come far, but we still need to do more. I want these girls to feel that that they are equal.”
For two months, each girl was tasked with creating one piece of artwork that represented their identity, as well as one larger piece that they all collaborated on together. The collaborative piece allowed them to build community with one another.
Chapel, who instructs classes at the Ringing College of Art and Design, found that her teaching style had to change for this project.
“I am still so used to giving critiques, and this is different because there is no specific direction,” Chapel says. “I’ve had to learn to let go, and let them open up and feel safe just in the way that I am communicating.”
Each of the girls worked in media ranging from text to paint to furniture, or the floor. It's been a labor of love that's been felt by everyone.
"This collaboration is everything that you would imagine builds community," Chapel says. "It has created this opportunity to work together, share ideas and the strength that comes from one woman working with another woman, making something that is not just mine."
The artwork will be on display at the M. Chapel Projects gallery at 2087 Princeton St., Sarasota. Its opening night will take place on Jan. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. and the exhibit will run from Jan. 16 to Jan. 19 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More information can be found on the gallery’s website here.