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Resilience at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Larry Saxton | 10/28/2009, 11:35 a.m.

Resilience, the ability to spring back from life€s adversities, is part of this year€s theme at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.

A new exhibition, aptly entitled, €Resilience,€ on display in the Ellington Gallery, is a collection of about 30 pieces of art work created by four alumni of the noted Northwest arts school. Paintings by Shaunte Gates, class of 1997, mixed media drawings by Mark Walker, class of 1999, photography by Laura Stuggins, class of 2006 and charcoal drawings and photography by Amira Rasayon, class of 2006 demonstrate the artists€ ability to push the limits of visual expression.

Museum Studies Department students penned the introduction for the exhibit which opened in September and runs through Dec. 4. The future curators wanted the content of the exhibit to €symbolize the effort and endurance required of all people, especially Ellington students, future artists and curators, to be successful in our careers and in life.€

€In May, we received in the mail an 8 1/2€ by 11€ piece of paper with 15 thumbnail sketches. They were reproductions of Mark Walker€s original pieces,€ said Marta Reid Stewart, chair of the Museum Studies Department.

€After looking at them we decided these works of art need to come out of the basement studio and come into the light, so other people can view them and gain inspiration from them,€ she said.

As part of their training in the Museum Studies Department at Ellington, students are taught to take an idea, determine if it could be an exhibition, build on it and make it a reality. This is what these students have done, Stewart said.

Other artists featured in the show were selected based on visual similarity and a common message: Resilience, never giving up, finding what you can do well and should obstacles present themselves, use them to catapult you onto the next level. From Gates€ painting of President Barack Obama, Rasayon€s charcoal drawing of her father playing chess, to the color photographs of a rose by Stuggins, resilience is truly the common theme in these works. But, the 15 works of art by Walker, also a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, dominate the exhibit. His use of the stark contrast between black and white, perspective, words, and viewer participation create the opportunity for thought provoking experiences.

Students agree.

Pearl Freeman, a 10th grade visual arts major, talked about one of Walker€s pieces, €Charcoal #10,€ displayed on a rotating easel.

€The thing that caught my eye was the perspective,€ she said. €He has words on all of his work. This particular [piece of art] he has upside down words that say, €begin doing that uphill climb.€ The man looks as if he is climbing down the hill, but everything is upside down, so I guess his message is, you have to do your part of looking up, and climbing up that hill to get where you want to be,€ Freeman said.
Students from Duke Ellington School of the Arts tour an exhibit in the school's local gallery. Currently featured in the exhibit are the works of 4 Ellington alumni--most prominently, Mark Walker's "cHARCOAL 16" series; Walker is a 1999 graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Photo by Eric Watson
Talaya Shuler, a senior in the Museum Studies Department, said that Walker€s series talked about life and the obstacles life hands you. And, that you have to overcome and face your fears and conquer all.€

Stewart said that in many ways the artists featured in the exhibit learned resilience during their years at Duke Ellington.

€As you talk to the students across the board from all eight departments you will find that, even though Mark Walker is talking about his quest to be an artist, the message transcends to all disciplines. It says that if you look hard enough you can find something that you too are remarkable at doing, and that€s a desire for all humans, and it inspires you to do that,€ she said.

Resilience is on display at the Ellington Gallery through Dec. 4. For more information call 202-282-0123.