The faces that grace a booklet of artwork by New Westminster Secondary School students aren’t just an exercise in portraiture.
They’re an exercise in anti-racism and in re-examining Canada’s past and present through a Black lens.
The halls of the new high school recently featured a display of portraiture and tessellation work by art students in grades 9 through 12. The artwork has been turned into a booklet, including write-ups by students about their work.
The project started with Black History Month, which is recognized in February, when students researched prominent figures from Black history in Canada and were challenged by art teacher Ms. LeBlanc to represent their contributions in black-and-white tessellation patterns. The artwork was to be equal parts black and white to symbolize the need for equal representation – not just in contemporary society, but in the re-examination of history.
Students created works representing an array of prominent figures from both historical and contemporary Canada – from abolitionists Mary Ann Shadd and Josiah Henson, and Dr. Anderson Ruffin Abbott, the first Black Canadian-born family physician, to contemporary figures such as writer-artist Francesca Ekwuyasi and writer, radio host and TV personality Bee Quammie.
Ravinder Johal, district principal for equity and inclusion, visited the class to talk to the students.
“The students generally enjoyed learning about historical and contemporary events and figures that they previously did not know about, but at the same time, a common theme expressed by students was the challenge of finding information through extensive research – which really does speak to the collective work ahead of us in terms of incorporating diverse Black perspectives in the K to 12 curriculum,” Johal told trustees at the April 27 school board meeting.