“Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Someday we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.” Maya Angelou
With this guiding quote, I embarked on a journey of the usage and meaning of words. In the basement art room of Central Catholic High School, a small group of students and I engaged in the world of language. Exploring the impact of words in our own lives through personal reflection and art, we came together. We weaved in elements of the looming fear of the new Presidential election, examples of marginalized communities reclaiming language and symbols that were stolen or used to oppress them. From this basis came conversations about the impact of being dyslexic, the daughter of two mothers, not fitting in with the social standard for how girls should act-- issues that can destroy some, but instead for these young people, motivated them to prove those people wrong.
Beginning with a Step To the Line, the students personally responded to prompts on how their words had first hurt them and also hurt another. As both statements were proposed to the group, there was an equal number of people, respectively. How could someone be hurt by words but also hurt others with words? Questions like these caused some hesitance, inner reflection and awkwardness at first-- to be asked to say words that others have used to put you down and the responses being, “bitch.” “nigga.” “selfish.”
There was a level of embracing the unknown, the unfamiliar and unwelcoming. To step up. To step back.
Looking forward, we dove into a discussion about the intent of artist's by incorporating words into their pieces. One slide highlighted a San Antonio Chicano artist visually displaying humanity's abstract sense identity through symbolic hand gestures, with the phrase "Show of Hands" at the bottom. Another displayed a Native American female artist personifying America as a woman floating at sea, under siege by white colonists, in which, she used small, almost unreadable words and lines that sectioned the woman off, each body part being claimed by the approaching ships. The dynamic use of the connotation and denotation of words, set with strong imagery facilitated a dialogue authentic in its own right. Slow in the beginning but strong in the end, the students provided authentic and personal responses to what they saw in each piece.
Lastly, the students had to respond to the following:
Select a word that you or others have used to identify you.
Take that word and imagine what it means, how it is spelled and how that spelling looks, based on how it has impacted your life.
With just color and design, write that word. Assign meaning to every color choice, pen stroke and overall presentation.