Urban students engage in activism through art


Katherine Weltzien, Staff Writer

 From lunchtime forums to class discussions, there are plenty of platforms for students to engage in political discourse at the Urban School of San Francisco. However, the public, vocal nature of Urban’s political atmosphere raises the question: How do students who do not feel comfortable speaking in these settings express their beliefs?

  Skylar Baker (‘18)  and Imogen Budetti (‘18) started the apparel brand “Yes We Wear” with the goal of  “allowing people to fight for social justice without feeling they need to be really outspoken,” said Baker. By wearing a t-shirt, “you’re not really calling attention to yourself,” said Budetti. Baker said that the shirts create an “awareness of who believes in what. Though we’re taught to not judge people based on their political views, I find that is something we have to base who we hang out with off of.”

  As far as the design aspect of the venture, Budetti said, “We’re not taking someone else’s images and putting them on a shirt and selling them. We’re designing them… I do art a lot, but I’ve never gone into a project with the goal of making anything political.” In terms of exploring new artistic territory,  “I don’t think we’ve been copying anyone, but we’ve been paying attention to digital media,” she said.

  Dani Garcia (‘18)  also uses visual art to share her beliefs with the Urban community. “It’s kind of an emotional outlet in a way, to express what I’m feeling and what my thoughts are. It’s also political in a way, it’s around, in the halls at Urban. It’s kind of exposing my thoughts in a way I feel comfortable sharing,” she said. “I feel like since the beginning of me taking Urban art classes I’ve leaned towards things that have to do with identity and politics….I remember in printmaking last term we had a prompt about art as activism. And in my final project I leaned towards that.”

  Regarding activism in Urban School art classes, Kelli Yon (visual art teacher), said, “Kate and I just finished teaching two graphic design classes and one of the assignments was to consider an ‘Americanism’ and create a poster that would inspire viewers into action (or nonaction, as the case may be). I was amazed by the thoughtful projects both classes created. There was a variety of subjects covered, but what was most clear is that Urban has a lot of students who are passionate deep political thinkers.”

  For those who are interested in viewing more art that conveys political beliefs, Yon said, “I feel that SOC [Students of Color] does an amazing job of conveying political questions through artwork.  There have been many identity photo projects done in the past few years that I have been blown away by. I appreciate students willingness to be honest and vulnerable with their community.”

  Looking towards the broader Bay Area community, Yon said, “William Kentridge has a piece at the SFMOMA (7th floor) right now that is one of my all-time favorites. Kentridge is a white South African artist who has always made work about his privilege and the politics of his country. It is a multimedia installation that is so completely immersive. I have been twice and intend to go as many more times as I can, for there is so much to see and imagine in it. He is simply a genius.”