By Emma Castleberry
Two Asheville high school students, Juliana Maurer and Isabel Inman, have been recognized as National Gold Medalists for the 2020 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partners with more than 100 visual arts and literary arts organizations across the country to bring the Scholastic Awards to local communities. Teens in grades 7–12, ages 13 and up, apply in 29 categories of art and writing. The Asheville Art Museum, with support from the Asheville Area Section of the American Institute of Architects, has sponsored the WNC regional judging of student artwork for this award program for 40 years, and the winners are featured in an exhibition at the Museum and honored at a ceremony.
One of the jurors for the 2020 WNC Regional Scholastic Art Awards was Sara Sanders, director of STEAM Studio at UNCA. “Becoming comfortable with vulnerability and being able to handle judgment and criticism is a huge part of being able to put work out into the world,” says Sara. “Programs like this help young artists venture into that vulnerable space in a safe way.”
Both Isabel and Juliana tackle deeply rooted, complex social justice concepts in their artwork. Isabel, who is a junior at Asheville Christian Academy, won for her mixed media work titled “Emmett Till.” “My piece was inspired by the historic tragedy of a young boy’s murder,” she says. “I wanted to educate viewers of Emmett’s killing, as well as explain the significance of his mother’s decision to display her son’s broken body to the public. This courageous act on the part of Mamie Till showcased the brutality of her child’s lynching, and ignited the flame of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Isabel’s canvas was a children’s board book, a nod to Till’s young life cut short. She altered the pages using ink and marker drawings, newspaper collage, paint and photographs from the event. As a juror, Sara was moved by “the powerful and relevant political messaging” of Isabel’s work. “It is a very well-composed piece that reminds us that these stories of racially motivated murders and the systemic racism that let them go unpunished are still with us.”
Juliana’s winning piece was a mixed media work titled “Corrugation of Consent.” She was inspired by the challenges of cardboard as a medium and its textural dominance when cut and layered. “I used chalk pastels to render three clothed female figures and then systematically erased their clothing by removing the top layer of cardboard to reveal the underlying texture that gives these figures form,” says Juliana, a junior at the School of Inquiry and Life Sciences at Asheville. “In removing their clothing, I removed the argument used to blame them. A person’s choice of clothing does not imply their consent, nor does its removal.”
Of Juliana’s piece, Sara says, “It’s a direct statement made in a simple medium with expertly rendered imagery about an issue that needs to be addressed, and I think it’s especially powerful coming from an adolescent voice in a culture where young girls’ bodies continue to be policed by school dress code policies, their peers, politicians and media.”
Sanders says that programs like the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards shine a light on the issues affecting youth, which are “the same issues that have plagued our culture for generations, and we have yet to fix them. We need to step up and not only support youth in their art-making but also work to make this city a safer place for them and future generations.”