Grads, Cultural Centre go online for Mayor’s Celebration of Youth Arts

Placed on a plinth amongst a Gillette razor fashioned out of papier mache and a discarded boot, molded out of clay, created to represent a piece of footwear left out and taken over by the elements, the headless form of a woman might, at first glance, go unnoticed.

But, once your eyes train on it, the contours suggesting what the abstract sculpture represents, it stands out in its own unique way.

“My Eternal Feminine” is a mixed media sculpture by Julia Mobbs, a Grade 12 student at Aurora High School, is one of the dozens of original pieces now on display at Town Hall and online as part of the Mayor’s Celebration of Youth Arts, showcasing the work of art grads hailing from both Aurora High School and St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic High School.

From Julia’s sculpture representing her view on how women are portrayed by the media, to paintings evoking the experience of Indigenous Canadians, to large canvasses depicting our new normal learning online at one end of the kitchen table as mom and dad hold Zoom meetings on the other side, each piece is highly personal for each artist and, quite often, a reflection of the year that was.

Last year’s Mayor’s Celebration of Youth Arts was, as fate had it, the final large-scale in-person exhibition hosted by the Aurora Cultural Centre before COVID-19 forced the closure of municipal spaces. But the Cultural Centre this year was more determined than ever to ensure the show does go on and these budding artists have a forum to share their creativity and ideas – if limited to a virtual gallery show.

“We had to create a Plan A and a Plan B,” explains Christina Di Paola of the Aurora Cultural Centre, noting the first option was for an in-person show and the second for something entirely virtual. “Fortunately, we were able to do a hybrid of both where we were able to install in-person and the staff [at Town Hall] can see it and we can show it formally like we wanted to. But we also have the virtual exhibition and the only way that this was even possible is we have the established relationships with the art teachers in the schools.”

Normally, the Cultural Centre team goes out to the schools to chat to students and teachers in person. With that option out the window, this creative collaboration had to take place mostly over emails and over the phone.

“We were amazed to get the amount of art that we got,” says Ms. DiPaola. “The kids were working partly from home and partly from school and they were able to create some really cool artwork. We’re excited about that because we really didn’t know what to expect this year and I am really happy with it all.”

Sharing this happiness is Julia who says the platform provided by this curated show allowed creativity to flow.

“With most adjudicated art shows, there is a limitation on maybe more realistic or abstract work and they will pick and choose, rather than here where you can mix anything and it allows for artistic freedom,” she says. “I talk about concerns with feminist theory and femininity. When people look at my work, I want them to feel, first of all, attracted to my work, but in terms of the message, [challenge] our immediate assumptions of what categorizes the idea of woman. It is a woman’s bodice but there is no head and it is quite exaggerated. I just want people to look at it and think. To me, it is kind of the version of a woman that is represented in the media and I just want people to look at it and think, why is that?”

The work of Stephanie Reilly is no less evocative, particularly her graphite on paper drawing “Broken Boy” featuring a crying child bound in shackles.

“We could choose anything for our final art piece but we were told to create something that has an important meaning and something we wanted to say to the world,” she says. “I chose child trafficking because I feel it isn’t talked about enough.”

Stephanie was inspired to go down this road after her sister drew her attention to an article on Jeffrey Epstein.

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“I wanted to keep it somewhat simple with a young boy handcuffed – his face is half covered to say it could be any child, really. Something simple but so powerful. When you’re in Grade 9, you can’t wait to be a part of this art show. You can see everyone’s art, even from people you don’t even know, and there are no limitations.”

The Mayor’s Celebration of Youth Arts is on now through May 1 online at auroraculturalcentre.ca. In addition to the virtual show itself, online components of the exhibition will be a number of “Art Bytes” interviews with participating artists, behind-the-scenes videos, a limited run art performance video, and stories behind the works.

TORONTO STAR