Self-Portraiture in West Chicago during COVID-19

 In The CAPE Blog

The Art of Self-Portraiture:  CAPE students in West Chicago, IL, explore the art of self-portraiture during a time of masks and COVID-19

Spring 2022

This year, 3rd to 5th grade students at West Chicago School District 33’s Currier Elementary School have been working with Teaching Artist Rita Grendze and teacher Sue Avila. Together they explored the art of self-portraiture, an especially interesting topic in the time of masks and social distancing in schools.

COVID-19 affected many aspects of young peoples’ lives – their ability to go to school, develop friendships, and have positive social interactions – shifted substantially.  Ms. Grendze and Ms. Avila  encouraged a group of West Chicago students to explore faces and the art of portraiture.  

As the masks are removed, these students have refamiliarized themselves with a friend’s smile or even their own facial expressions that have remained hidden for so long.

When the Omicron Covid variant required a week of remote learning early in this semester, Ms. Grendze and Ms. Avila simplified their lesson plans to work via Zoom.  They soon realized how much their students responded to explicit instructions and step-by-step exercises to build skills. This engagement led to a three-week exploration of portraiture, a portion of which was on display at the Geneva Center for the Arts.  Students learned techniques to draw facial components, most evident in their work that uses half of a photo to help them draw their own face, and then the portrait of a classmate. Students also looked at artists like Bisa Butler and Derrick Adams who create portraits using pattern and shape, which can be seen in their collaged profile portraits.

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