Ethnic Studies » Visual Art in the Ethnic Studies Framework

Visual Art in the Ethnic Studies Framework

by Tyler Fister, Visual Art Teacher at Camino Nuevo Charter High School - Miramar Campus
Visual art is commonly considered a vehicle to express emotion, state an opinion, and provide an opportunity to reflect on the world we live in. When combined with the Ethnic Studies frameworks of critical reflection and analysis, art becomes a tool to challenge dominant narratives that marginalize and negate non-dominant identities. In a unit entitled “Art in the News” students from Miramar’s Art 1 class produced original multi-media pieces that answered the following essential question: How can we use art as a tool to present an opinion about a current event that educates, advocates, agitates, organizes, or archives people around us? Students took up the call of engagement by providing opinions, reflections and counter narratives on topics such as sexual assault, racism, immigration, poverty, and global warming.
Although it is unfortunate that students have such an immense list of issues and topics that negatively impact their lives, it is necessary that we as educators gives students space to develop, examine and write their own narratives and reflections. In this act of naming, students position themselves as agents to inform and transform the world around them. The following pieces of art are the outcomes of students’ ability to examine, analyze and produce differing narratives that ultimately ask us as viewers to reflect observe, and engaged in dialogue about our understanding and perspectives of such topics.
In her work “Congrats” 12 grader Melanie Espindola engages in the debate around sexual assault on college campuses. In her artist statement, she states, "I wanted to educate people on campus rape and sexual assault. I think that sexual assault and rape on a college campus is not talked about, yet it happens more than people assume… In the background I placed statistics about campus sexual assault, the reason for this is because they represent both genders and how they are assaulted. However, the reason why it's painted over in the map is because it gets washed away in America.” 
In their work entitled “Meaning of Immigration” 10th graders Micaela Zarat and Brian Poblete with 9th grader Elder Lopez intervened in the current debate about immigration. In their artist statement they state, “We chose butterflies because butterflies migrate to the north of America. They migrate because they need to live in a better place to live in. like butterflies, us latinos migrate to north to live in a better place. A wasp is a butterfly’s predator. If a butterfly is caught by a wasp, they get taken and eaten. If an immigrant gets caught by a border patrol agent, they get deported. The immigrants are standing in a desert that is dark which means what we are leaving behind. The background is light which represents positive things.”
12th grader Esther Matias challenges the viewer to see the complexities of poverty. Her artist statement states, “My objective was for others to be aware of some of the causes of poverty. I drew a chain because this causes have people chained to poverty, such as being jobless causes you to have economic problems, which may lead to poverty. When someone looks at my project I want them to see that basically anything can lead someone to be in poverty.”
In all three examples, students apply their lived experiences, opinions, and analysis to issues that are impacting their community and world. In this act of knowledge production, students are able to see themselves as legitimate knowledge producers challenging and engaging in current day debates. When we combine tools of action (in this case visual art) with Ethnic Studies frameworks of critical reflection and analysis, we are more likely to facilitate students agency and confidence to engage their world. In an effort to let the school community engage in debate about these important topics, the work of all three Integrated Art classes will be on display at the Miramar campus from April to May 2018.
If you would like to find more about the lesson plan and scaffolding around these themes please contact Tyler Fister at