By Tasha Henry, Teacher at Cedar Hill Middle School. As part of the New Extreme program, the wall of the Art Gallery building facing Moss Street gets a new mural installed every spring. This year, the group called Melanin Magic from Cedar Hill Middle School created the mural "How We Fit Together", mentored by artist Andrea Searle.

By Tasha Henry, Teacher at Cedar Hill Middle School

As part of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s New Extreme program, the exterior wall of the Gallery (facing Moss Street) gets a new mural installed every spring. This year, the group called Melanin Magic from Cedar Hill Middle School created the mural “How We Fit Together”, mentored by artist Andrea Searle. This is a reflection of their journey through New Extreme…

Melanin Magic, a girls group at Cedar Hill Middle School for black/brown/mixed girls, or those who identify as girls of colour, was created three years ago by teachers, counsellors and parents who felt a need to connect and support the exploration of identity through expressive arts.

Installation of the mural in April

This year, as part of the New Extreme project, we had the opportunity to work with mentor artist, Dre Searle, to create a conceptual mural based on the question: “how do we fit together?”. Through sharing circles, the girls found points of contact; similar stories of marginalization as well as shared values, insecurities, and hopes. As the thematic framework of the piece grew, some more questions emerged, such as, “how do we face each other? What are our points of contact and points of departure? How do we connect and support each other?

As the girls explored these themes through design and colour, the idea of individual silhouettes took form. The silhouettes reference traditional portraiture, however they could also be seen as shadows that make us question what can be seen or not seen when we face others. Most of the silhouettes are intentionally black to represent how children of colour continue to be marginalized, cast in categories of difference, and othered by societal practices. The graphic backdrops, or puzzle pieces form a literal ‘fitting together” depicting intersections of contact, voiced by contrasting colour and soft repeating pastels to show how ‘colour’ when fully expressed, does not clash. The girls worked on the panels together, in fluid teams, helping each other build their unique piece with the knowledge that they would all join together as one voice, connected by their unique expressiveness.

Mural section (detail) | Photo courtesy of Tasha Henry

“I enjoyed doing this project because I gained a new perspective about how we are as our own people, but also how much stronger we are together, while still maintaining that individuality.”
Gabrielle, grade 6 Student

“This group has been inspirational because I get to see what other women of colour are doing with their lives and I get to see what I want to pursue in my career and my life.”
Bayan, grade 7 student

In this time of a global pandemic and collective trauma, this mural represents how we are all unmistakably dependent on one another even from within the silos of our perceived differences and the real walls that socially separate us. As R.M. Rilke stated, “Ultimately it is on our vulnerability that we depend”. In this moment, we are all leveled by our humanness and our wellness depends on the quality of our connectivity. Our hope is that this mural reminds community that we are all dependent on the ways in which we face each other, fit together and stand by each other as we continue to do the world’s work together.

The New Extreme Program pairs local artists with groups of youth across Victoria, and together they explore various aspects of being an artist and engaging with contemporary art. Two other groups – one from Artemis Secondary School and the other from the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry – were also involved in New Extreme 2020, and their projects are featured in the article, Reflections From the New Extreme Program, in this issue of the AGGV Magazine.

Feature image courtesy of Tasha Henry.