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Teen artists bring fresh perspective to BMoA ArtWorks exhibition

If understanding the biases and expectations of identity in modern life is complicated for adults, it’s even more so for teenagers. Some creative students put pen (or brush or other tools) to their chosen medium to interpret those ideas for “Deconstructing the Lens: Selections from the Students in the BMoA ArtWorks Program.”

The exhibition features work from 12 high school juniors and seniors who took part in the Bakersfield Museum of Art's semester-long experience with virtual class sessions, guest lectures from local artists and mentorship from museum staff.

It gives viewers the opportunity to see the world as experienced by those with a young, fresh perspective.

"Young people have something to say, and what they say is important and valid," Melissa Bañuelos, a curatorial assistant at the museum, wrote in an email. "Adults often assume that the voices of young adults should not be taken seriously. Though below the age of majority, young adults see and process more than we realize. We do well to listen to their voices."

Participating artists are Anastasia Cadenas, Andrew Cintron, Carina DeJesus, Amari Griggs, Izzy Herrera, Bianca Loera, Mayra Lugo, Ely Madera, Dani Richert, Natalie Ridley, May’C Rogers and Angelica Soto.

Bañuelos worked with colleague Jay Olivo, an art educator and ArtWorks alum who has worked with the group every year, to schedule speakers and create conversational lectures about a specific type of art that features contemporary artists working in that medium today.

Guests included Art Sherwyn, whose work is currently on display at the museum; graphic designer and artist Jennifer Williams-Cordova; and drag queen and salon owner Shaleah Moore. Bañuelos said each discussed their background, shared examples of their work, and "addressed the opportunities, challenges, and pressures that artists can face throughout their careers."

Inspired by others' experiences and their own artistic eye, the students interpreted the theme of "deconstructing the lens" through a variety of media, focusing on different subjects.

"Some students explored the gender binary and how it is represented, while others examined the internal dilemmas of trauma and anxiety," Bañuelos wrote.

Identity and the immigrant experience are also present in the collection both indirectly and directly, as in the work of Anastasia Cadena in her piece "Accent Barriers."

The eight-panel digital comic depicts a common experience: an immigrant parent trying to order food at a fast-food drive-thru. When the cashier can't understand the order from Anastasia’s mother, who has a pronounced Venezuelan accent, Anastasia then repeats the order in her own voice and the employee processes the order.

"We had a good discussion in our sessions about how such a small interaction can underscore the 'otherness' of the immigrant, which runs contrary to the very inclusion immigrants seek when coming to the United States," Bañuelos wrote. "Ordering a meal magnifies the importance of a simple necessity: being understood. Immigrant parents can struggle to communicate in situations native English speakers can take for granted."

Cadena wrote in her artist's statement on the piece: "With something as simple as communicating one’s food order, there can be challenges for immigrants such as having a non-American accent, which American society doesn’t even consider as an issue since this group doesn’t experience it first-hand."

For her piece "Conjoined Feast," Mayra Lugo took inspiration from Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," depicting women from different cultures and ethnicities coming together to enjoy a meal.

"When women get together there is always something special about it," she wrote in her statement.

"The meaning behind my piece is that no matter what part of the world you are in and whatever it is you believe, we can always try to come together and have a lovely meal with one another."

Fellow painter Ely Madera chose her hometown of Lamont as her subject, depicting it in three colorful pieces of small-town life.

While Lamont may make the news for crime-related stories, Madera said she sees the importance of family in her town and the people there "working their hardest to succeed in their own small way."

"This town has a beautiful community that is never shown," she wrote in her statement. "I use a big mixture of different media to show the spectrum of people here. Nothing is plain and simple here, it’s energetic and colorful."

Drawn to unusual and surreal art, Natalie Ridley, the daughter of an immigrant mother from Barcelona and "conservative American dad," said viewing society through different scopes and perspectives continues to make her advocate for "many disenfranchised communities in California, and America in general."

Her pieces — "US Capitalism" and "Empowering the Marginalized" — reflect that introspection.

"When I sit down to make my art, I find the best work comes when thinking about these topics in depth, as well as putting my feelings about it on canvas," she wrote in her statement. "My opinions and ideas are permanently printed in acrylic paint for others to observe and judge."

"Deconstructing the Lens" is currently available to view on the museum's website (bmoa.org) but will be on display at the Kern County High School District Administrative Offices, 5801 Sundale Ave., from Aug. 23 through Nov. 24.

Bañuelos encourages viewers to experience the work in person if they can.

"The beauty of social media and the internet is that it lets us view artwork physically located anywhere in the world," she wrote. "That said, there is no better way to both support artists and experience their work than by seeing their work in person.

"The in-person experience not only engages the public but allows for a more visceral response to the art object from all angles."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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