Denial and acceptance. These were the themes of night one and night two of the “Atypical Evening,” an art exhibit organized by local high school students at Global Prep Academy in Valencia over Labor Day weekend.
The overall theme was self-expression, evident in the many works displayed that students said gave them an opportunity to express topics and personal challenges they considered too taboo to talk about.
“A few [students] have said that it was nice to have an outlet to talk about this, like they’ll be shamed if they talked about mental health in school, or sexuality in school,” said 17-year-old Eshel Ahmad, event organizer and West Ranch High School student. “There’s not a lot of outlets to talk about some of these topics. So I think a lot of them felt like it was moving and empowering, which is what we were going for.”
One student who seized this opportunity was 17-year-old Karla Huazano, who made a piece titled “In Defiance of Indoctrination,” a piece that changed from one day to the next and represented the growth of self-identity from a perception of the person her parents wanted her to be versus the person she actually was.
“So the first night… I kind of compared how my parents taught me to prioritize my appearance as like how a ballerina exists inside of a music box. They exist to be perceived. And if they don’t look good, then they’re not entertaining,” said Huazano. “So the reason why I removed the ballerina is to kind of give the chance for the viewer to step into the box and see the warped perception of what it means to prioritize something that’s so superficial.”
On the second night, however, the box was filled with a representation of a wild garden reclaiming the space that was there before — filled with lavender, eucalyptus and other plants that are among her favorites. This was also mixed with butterflies and excerpts of Huazano’s poetry.
“I genuinely don’t believe that there could ever be too much of anything. I feel like when it comes to self-expression and personal experiences, you could get into so many topics, like personal self-expression, gender, sexuality, academic life,” said Huazano. “I feel like as long as people exist, we will always need these outlets in order to allow people to really indulge in that kind of stuff.”
Mounia Rahman, another 17-year-old artist, wanted to express the scars caused by mental illness not by hiding them, but by healing them — in a piece titled “blooming,” which showed a red mannequin lying on the floor surrounded by bandages.
Rahman said there are things that adults could take away from this exhibit in addition to what students could learn as well.
“There was one piece that was about the things parents say to kids,” said Rahman. “Even if they don’t mean for it to be harmful, it really is and I feel like that one especially really impacted a lot of the parents and I heard a lot of adults talking about that one.”
One sentiment the artists and the event organizers shared was a desire to have more opportunities for students and kids their age to be able to talk about these subjects, but that this event at least gave them the opportunity to artistically express them.
“We feel that in Santa Clarita, there aren’t a lot of outlets for people to showcase their art or to really talk about taboo topics. So we wanted to create an art space where people can do that,” said 17-year-old West Ranch student and event organizer Kaitlin Mendoza.
“I’ve grown up in this town, and I always loved art, but I’ve never really had an outlet to kind of really indulge in that,” said Huazano. “I was really excited when I heard about this.”
While equally proud of themselves, the students also admired their peers’ work and acknowledged some of the courage it takes to be vulnerable.
“I noticed a lot of people yesterday when they walked in, like they probably thought were a bunch of high school kids with problems, and honestly we are, but I think this was a perfect way to express that because mental health is so important and we wanted people to have healthy ways of coping with that,” said Mendoza.
“I think you don’t have to consider yourself an artist to really believe that you could create something amazing,” said Huazano. “There’s a lot of people here who were really apprehensive, they didn’t think they had the capabilities to make something that they considered worthy to be in an art installation-based event. I think as long as you have an idea, you will have all the space in the world to go.”