Kimball Jenkins art interns use color to send a message of inclusion – 71Bait

14-year-old Nazlie Taban has always been ‘obsessed’ with abstract art and loves the way a simple image can convey a much larger story.

When Taban, an aspiring ninth grader at Central High School in Manchester, heard about a summer internship at the Kimball Jenkins School of Art where she could tell her own story through an abstract wall project, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I felt like I was part of an opportunity bigger than myself,” Taban said.

Taban, whose parents came to the US from South Sudan, says she learned to celebrate her Sudanese and Congolese heritage alongside her American identity, but it took time. Growing up in a mostly white state, Taban said she found it hard to embrace their differences when all she wanted to do was fit in.

“It took me some time to grow and understand that I’m beautiful, where I come from was beautiful, and my culture is beautiful,” Taban said. “I love being part of this internship where people from different backgrounds are who they are and it allows me to feel more comfortable being who I am.”

This summer, 15 interns from Concord, Franklin and Manchester spent six weeks studying and painting a mural at the Kimball Jenkins School of Art, which they describe as a “creative installation to create places” that reflect the ideals of justice and inclusion taught. The mural that adorns the wall below the I-393 exit will be unveiled at a grand opening event Thursday night.

Taban’s abstract design of the faces of two South Sudanese immigrant women can be seen on the mural.

“A lot of people forget that you will always have a connection to who you were and to your motherland,” Taban said. “These two women are definitely a representation of that connection.”

Most Kimball Jenkins interns attend as part of a partnership with My Turn, a Manchester-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing internships and training opportunities to students from economically and socially disadvantaged communities. During their six weeks at Kimball Jenkins, the interns learned about creating art, but also the business side of what it takes to work in art. Students learned how to create a resume, how to write a press release, create a budget, graphic design, marketing, and interview skills.

“The goal is for them to really understand the whole of what goes into a community development project and how those skills can translate into future jobs, future careers that they might want to have,” said Kimball Jenkins Executive Director Julianne Gadoury.

The school brought in guest speakers to speak to the students about different careers in the arts and to inspire the students for their own career paths.

“We’re giving them access to that network, the soft skills and the hard skills needed to pull through the hustle of the creative industries and get involved in building communities and actually working towards things they enjoy and do love. ‘ said program director Yasamin Safarzadeh.

For the mural project, the students studied with Portsmouth-based artist Richard Haynes, whose own colorful art depicts themes of community, racial unity and moments from American history, like his Whispering Quilts series about an enslaved family navigating the underground railroad . The students started with conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion. They discussed racism throughout American history, their own relationship to racism today, and how their generation can create a more just society. The students created their own designs for a mural based on these conversations.

“Hopefully in this kind of conversation we get these young people to literally come out of this program and understand how we’re supposed to be allies for one another, whether it’s the LGBTQ population, whether it’s women, whether it’s people of color,” said Haynes. “How do we make it fair for everyone?”

Intern Ava Conlon, an aspiring sophomore at Concord High School, said she was initially interested in the internship opportunity because she has always loved art and meeting new people. A section of the finished mural depicting a multicultural crowd is Conlon’s design, inspired by some old photos she found.

“I searched online for family photos of all cultures and put them together almost like one big family photo,” Conlon said. “‘We’re all one family,’ that’s the idea behind it.”

The final mural on the wall is a compilation of student designs against a backdrop of the New Hampshire mountains. The central part of the mural depicts a diverse crowd of people with a wide range of skin tones and clothing. At either end are the faces of two African immigrant women in profile, pointing toward the center. At the top is the face of a young black man with braided hair, adding some Afro-Futurist elements to the piece.

Inspired by Haynes’ style, the mural’s colors are vibrant and varied.

“Color was so important,” Haynes said. “It’s a celebration of who we are as a nation of people, and it brings joy.”

The Summer 2022 Intern Wall Reveal Event “The Colors of Shift: Who We Are and How We Connect” will be held on Thursday, August 18 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Kimball Jenkins School of Art on N. Main Street with live music and light refreshments. The event is open to everyone.

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