- Isamu Noguchi
- Akari & Shop
For the 2022–2023 school year, high school students in the Teen Advisory Board (TAB) participated in a 20-week internship at the Noguchi Museum led by educator and artist Yali Romagoza to learn about the global influences of Isamu Noguchi’s life and work, and collaborated on a final project to promote dialogue and inclusivity at the Museum. Focusing on social justice and the empowerment of communities and cultures, our TAB intern cohort explored anti-racism, equity and institutional justice through creative work and discussions about how art can be used for social change.
TAB interns upheld values of a brave space and studied Noguchi’s biography, as well as the community-based practices of artists Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya and Trasonia Abbott, as a critical framework for reflecting on their personal identities and issues they cared about. Throughout the program, interns practiced radical vulnerability through intimate group discussion in response to reflective prompts: “What community do you feel connected to or a part of? How do artists impact their environment? What are the ways in which art can be used for social change?” TAB also considered the broader impacts of youth leadership through educational and social exchange with teens at the Hill Art Foundation and Socrates Sculpture Park.
For their final project, teens worked with artist-founded risograph printing press lucky risograph to create an eight-fold zine entitled “Everything In Between: Light vs. Darkness.” The zine, which features images of Noguchi’s sculptures Sun at Noon (1969) and The Void (1970), explores the themes of freedom, justice, purpose, beauty, intersectionality, and symbolism as a space of creative possibility and liberation for themselves and their communities. Considering their empowerment as individuals and a collective, each teen included a personal statement about their interpretation of the zine’s theme and worked collaboratively on its design elements. Students then distributed zines to Museum visitors and invited both staff and members of the public for a teen-driven panel discussion on their process developing the zine and shared experiences.
What follows are reflections from three high school students who participated in TAB: Alicia, Isabel and Zusi, who offer further insight into their unique contributions to the program and how it impacted their sense of self. Their calls to imagine greater belonging and inclusion resonate with Noguchi’s own recollection of his teenage years, in which he anticipates all the possibility that awaits these students: “I was a waif from the age of thirteen and home was where I made it. We make our life what we dream about.”1
One of the goals of TAB was to create a welcoming and inclusive space for teens to feel empowered to express their own voices and ideas. How did learning about art and social justice impact your understanding of self, The Noguchi Museum, and your community?
Learning about art and social justice in TAB impacted my understanding of self by challenging me to take risks and be vulnerable when it comes to socializing. During my time in TAB, I participated in group warm-ups and conversations about how our day went and how we felt. In particular, I remember the “car and driver” exercise, when we closed our eyes and entrusted our peers to communicate where we were heading in the classroom. Socializing with others in this way was new to me; it’s something I normally wouldn’t do and I felt like people actually cared.
My experience in TAB is connected to other opportunities where I have sought to immerse myself in art and social justice, including painting communal murals in my elementary school and participating in a club called Operation Breaking Stereotypes, where I engaged in online conversations about current social justice issues and stereotypes with other high school students. Through TAB and these experiences, I found my voice in being an advocate for others and want to continue this journey in college. I hope to major in criminal justice and educate people on racial discrimination in crime control and prevention. In TAB I learned how to advocate for many causes, but advocating for anti-racism is something I especially enjoy.
Through TAB, I also learned about The Noguchi Museum, who Isamu Noguchi was as a person, and how his journey is reflected in every piece of his artwork. TAB taught me how to look carefully at artwork and view things from different perspectives when visiting museums. I realized that artworks have a story behind them, similar to how people have different stories. Learning about art and its connection to social justice impacted my understanding by making me more aware of how I can be involved in my community. Noguchi’s art showed me that there are real world issues that can be explored through creative expression. Noguchi wrote, “I perceive my limitations even as I work. There are times when I see nothing but restrictions, barriers. Learning takes time.”2 This quote resonates with the barriers of racial discrimination and dislocation that Noguchi faced, both of which are obstacles that are still present today. During his lifetime, Noguchi voluntarily entered the Poston War Relocation Center, seeking to figure out who he was and improve conditions for his community. In this spirit, our final zine project illustrated turning points in Noguchi’s life and our own. It was creative and clear in the way it invited the Museum community to learn something new from the experiences of TAB members and embrace change as something we must go through to see positive transformation in the world. –Zusi Vega
As I like to say, art and social justice are two sides of the same coin. They’ve gone hand in hand through the shifting progressions of American history. Each one originates from a unique perspective on the challenges that plague society. As a law student, I studied societal problems, but it was The Noguchi Museum that gave me a space to project the emotions I was feeling into forms of artistic expression. For one, there is a serious lack of representation within the media with regards to showing minority communities in a positive light. Sure, there are paintings and statues depicting past heroes, but there’s a gap in visual representation of modern and contemporary issues, especially within larger museum establishments.
As a participant in the Teen Advisory Board, I was able to express frustrations I felt about societal and institutional inequalities without the fear of being shut down. One of the more notable activities in the program included making a collage from magazines and pre-printed postcards. I cut out text from magazine articles that related to social justice issues that we need to advocate for as a society, such as women’s rights, climate change, and the evolving housing crisis. Underneath the text, I pasted many images of domestic scenes to represent the false comforts of our homes. I layered the text representing political and social issues on top of one another, with small cracks showing images of home interiors to illustrate the idea that true comfort is an illusion and people can never really relax. There’s always going to be another issue that won’t be resolved unless something is done about it.
The final zine that I created with the other members of TAB was straightforward in representing the central idea of light versus darkness, or life and death. When we distributed the zine to Museum staff, guests and members of the public, I think the zine provided people with more insight into the works of Isamu Noguchi and how the Teen Advisory Board as a whole views societal problems. It reflected a wider perspective on how institutions struggle to be anti-racist and how they will often do the bare minimum in hopes of staying on good terms with the public. Learning more in depth about the intersection of art and social justice at the Museum helped me to gain confidence in my abilities to stand up for what’s right for myself and others in future endeavors. The TAB program has given me more motivation to strive for higher standards of minority rights and be a proud advocate for inclusive and long overdue policy changes in museums and legal institutions. –Alicia Reymus
Share a specific example or memory from the program. What do you value most about the connections and community that you discovered through TAB?
Throughout the TAB program, I was able to experience a sense of community and create valuable memories. I valued each and every single moment of meeting multiple teen groups and artists. I’ve been able to rethink some of my core values and strengthen my mind when it comes to art and the way we think about it. Most of all, I valued the connections I was able to create with other people who care about art and justice the same way I do.
A specific memory I cherish was visiting the Hill Art Foundation and Socrates Sculpture Park. When TAB met other groups of teens, we had meaningful conversations about art as a form of creative expression with a message. Through conversation, I learned how art isn’t just human forms and full on renaissance paintings, but a way to capture feeling through other shapes, forms, and anything, really. TAB especially loved The Void (1970), by Noguchi and we explored its many meanings and symbolisms. I also learned how art can change people’s perceptions and be used in our everyday lives, whether it’s practical or not. I loved discussing the meaning that certain pieces and materials can have for others. As an artist myself, exploring and seeing so many different works with peers in my age group helped me in my journey of artistic experimentation and to have a deeper connection with the materials I’m using. These conversations gave my life more meaning in a way, as I feel that art as a whole is my life.
Interacting with other TAB teens has also been such an eye opening experience for me. I consider myself an introvert and started out very scared, but seeing that the rest of my group felt the same I was compelled to be vocal and get out of my comfort zone. As awkward as it was in the beginning, we ended up being able to talk more and open up to each other. I would always try to participate first by sitting closest to our instructor and try lightening the mood with a joke or something we could all relate to. Having a topic or idea that we connected to sparked dialogue and helped me befriend the other teens. This was honestly big for me, as I don’t usually speak unless spoken to. I ended up looking forward to Wednesdays and hearing from my peers. We had so many meaningful conversations that changed my point of view and helped me understand what others go through and their worldview. My peers from TAB were so articulate and passionate, and they inspired me to be the same.
I value other people’s feelings and experiences above all else, but I also value self improvement. Through TAB, I successfully came out of my shell and learned to communicate with others. I found ways to have deep and meaningful conversations. Not only have I become more compassionate, but I became a better artist. People and their experiences inspire me to create. All of this was thanks to the TAB program and I will cherish it for life. –Isabel Velasco