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Students' art captures pandemic perspective

by Deborah Horn Special to The Commercial | May 3, 2021 at 2:10 a.m.
The Masked World by Charlese Colen is part of the 2021 Pine Bluff High School art exhibit at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial)

"An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." -- Nina Simone

It was Simone's words that Pine Bluff High School art teacher Shalisha Thomas used to inspire her own students as they prepared pieces for the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas's annual Pine Bluff High School Exhibition.

The show, titled "The Pandemic Through a Student's Lens," reflects the last year as her students experienced it. The exhibit, which opened Thursday, contains 19 pieces and runs through June 19.

Last year was rough. In-person classes were canceled, with students spending much of their time studying online and in isolation. Even now, Thomas meets with most of her art students virtually through the day.

She has a core group of about eight that she spends the entire day with, but second through sixth periods, Thomas teaches art virtually.

The kids were eager to participate in the exhibit, Thomas said.

"They're really happy to create."

The first part of the year was devoted to art history, so many were ready for a hands-on art experience. This semester was focused on creating and, in particular, reflecting the pandemic and its impact on the world around them.

"I was surprised by the ones that told me that creating art was a challenge for them," Thomas said. "I think many of my students surprised themselves and found a new interest in the process of creating their work. That's the part that made all of this worthwhile."

This exhibit is sponsored by Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel of White Hall, and it allows students, along with their friends and parents, to experience their art in a new way.

A piece takes on a whole new feel when mounted, framed and hung in a gallery.

"I'm so proud of them," Thomas said.

She was also pleased with ASC Curator Chaney Jewell's exhibit design.

"Thank you so much for your being so gracious and supportive during this time," Thomas said. "I truly appreciate all the hard work and dedication that went into displaying the students' work in the gallery and sharing it virtually."

In turn, Jewell said, "Shalisha has been amazing to work with, and she's worked very hard to coordinate the exhibition with me and aid students in creating their artwork and the writing of their artist statements."

Former ASC Director and Curator Lenore Shoults has worked with the high school previously.

"The talent at PBHS is extraordinary, and we look forward to sharing the students' work with the public," Shoults said.

The PBHS exhibition opened Thursday and is available for viewing in the ASC gallery or online at www.asc701.org/2021-annual-pine-bluff-high-school.

The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas is located at 701 S. Main St. and is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

All visitors two years and older are required to wear a mask fully covering the nose and mouth. The number of visitors are limited to 10, and people are welcome to reserve a time slot in advance by contacting Matthew Howard, visitor relations coordinator, at (870) 536-3375 or email mhoward@asc701.org.

The Lonely Girl is by Kaitlyn Banes. The piece is displayed in the 2021 Pine Bluff High School art exhibit at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial)
The Lonely Girl is by Kaitlyn Banes. The piece is displayed in the 2021 Pine Bluff High School art exhibit at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial)
Pandemic Heartbreak by Larissa Holcomb is among pieces by Pine Bluff High School artists on exhibit at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial)
Pandemic Heartbreak by Larissa Holcomb is among pieces by Pine Bluff High School artists on exhibit at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas. (Special to The Commercial)
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