High school artists aim to expand on Patrick Lyoya’s story with ArtPrize entry – 71Bait

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Students at Kentwood Public Schools, struggling to cope with the news that a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, Patrick Lyoya, was shot dead by a Grand Rapids police officer, used their artistic skills to honor him.

After the April murder, teachers in East Kentwood High School’s fine arts department came up with the idea of ​​painting a portrait featuring 15 students who wanted to work together and spread Lyoya’s story to the larger community.

The students were already processing other fatal incidents involving black men when they began the portrait project, which became an ArtPrize 2022 entry but was not the goal. Under the Veil will be screened at Fountain Street Church, 24 Fountain St. NE, in downtown Grand Rapids.

The art project was funded with a $5,000 grant from the Steelcase Foundation, which approached the faculty for an honor shortly after Lyoya was shot dead by ex-officer Christopher Schurr on April 4 after a fight following a traffic stop was. Schurr was released and charged with second-degree murder.

“I think this play made me deal with a tragedy and face the tragedy in my community and really see it,” said Judith Kahlihara, a Congolese student from East Kentwood High School who was involved in the project.

“I had to face the fears that this happened and I hope it doesn’t happen again. And I hope people see that in this piece of art that so many of us have worked hard to curate.”

Kahlihara said she knew Lyoya through her brothers and described him as family-oriented and always on the ball.

Kentwood Public Schools has over 9,000 students and is one of the most diverse districts in the state with students from several countries including Congo.

Related: “It took this tragedy to see that we are here,” say African immigrants after Patrick Lyoya’s death

Lyoya’s family shared a collection of recent photographs painted on canvas for the portrait. Lyoya is shown in a gold and black shirt with a gold chain around her neck. The borders of the portrait are made of African fabrics that the students painted.

“The fabric surrounding the portrait is a fabric called kipeng in our culture,” Kahlihara said. “For a lot of people, that means something like strength in unity, and this substance played a role because it is Congolese.”

Olivia Miller, an art teacher at East Kentwood High School, said the team was determined to capture not only Lyoya’s essence but also his culture.

“Patrick was very stylish, but he was also very proud of his culture,” Miller said. “We wanted to celebrate that part of his story because sometimes when we see a tragedy it can be dehumanizing and we don’t see who they are, especially if we don’t know them.”

She said it’s important for students to see that they can use their creativity to present an important topic.

“So many of our students and many of our students who worked on this are immigrants or refugees,” Miller said. “Many of them, even if they don’t belong to the same culture, understand trauma reactions. They bonded with him and understood that it could have been anyone in our community.”

Gabrielle Burns, another student artist on the project, said she had a voice as a student at a Kentwood school. She said you really don’t see that most people are capable of creating the kind of impact that the portrait gave them.

“It helped me show that my voice is there and that it matters,” Burns said.

East Kentwood teachers Le Tran and Kimberly Meyers-Baas, along with Miller and local artist Monroe O’Bryant, also worked with the students. Virginia Wieringa, a retired art teacher who previously worked at Grand Rapids Public Schools, offered her fabric skills and knowledge.

In August, after the art project was completed, Miller took the piece to the A Glimpse of Africa festival in Grand Rapids, where she was able to meet Lyoya’s parents in person.

Miller said she spoke to his mother along with a Swahili interpreter who translated.

“Suddenly, as I was explaining the project, his mother looked away and tears rolled down her face,” Miller said. “And she said to him, ‘I’m not crying because I want you to take pity on me, I’m crying because when I look at this I can see his spirit.’ And that made me cry because that’s what we wanted to do; capture its essence.”

Inspired by the well-received feedback on the piece, the art teachers decided to enter the piece in ArtPrize, an 18-day international art competition that began September 15 and ended October 2. There are approximately 750 entries, 150 venues, and a $250,000 prize pool awarded based on public input and judges.

Related: 21 photos worth seeing from the opening days of the ArtPrize 2022

“We were pleased that Fountain Street Church wanted us because their theme and all of their ArtPrize pieces were social justice,” said Meyers-Baas, the chair of the arts department and design illustrator at East Kentwood High School. “And we believe that art has to have a message and be meaningful. It’s great to look pretty, but we thought this portrait might spark a conversation.”

Other faculties and students participating in the project are:

  • Alyssa Rink
  • Ven Zing
  • Ram Lian
  • Hi Sag
  • Alison Li
  • Rachel Kisil
  • Remlla Ali
  • Scarlet Lee
  • Sherlyn Rosales
  • Jill Smith
  • Adina Hodzic

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