Imagine sitting in the art room flipping through a series of portraits. These images display all different sorts of emotions. Some are sad, some are happy, and some are thoughtful. When you’re done looking through the drawings, you get up and leave the room, heading towards your next class. These are portraits of Syrian refugees that Wayland High School art students have created.
Veronique Latimer, one of two art teachers at WHS, is working with her students to create portraits of children living in Syrian refugee camps through a nonprofit organization called the Memory Project.
“[The Memory Project is] based out of Wisconsin and invite art teachers and their students to create portraits of children around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, and extreme poverty,” Latimer said. “The idea is to help children feel valued by providing them with a meaningful keepsake from their childhood.”
The Memory Project has sent WHS 22 photos of children living in refugee camps as of today. Students who participate in the WHS chapter of the National Art Honor Society and WHS’ Art Club, as well as those taking Honors Art 3, Honors Art 4, AP Studio Art and Advanced Drawing classes will use the photos as references to create portraits. Their deadline is January 15.
“The photos have to be no bigger than nine inches by 12 and light enough so that someone could hang it easily with tape on the wall of their tent, so on paper, not canvas or board,” Latimer said.
Students are taking a wide range of approaches to complete the portraits.
“Some are using watercolor and gouache, others are sticking to graphite pencils or colored pencils. We can be creative with the backgrounds and incorporate [the Syrian refugee children’s] favorite colors in some way,” Latimer said.
When the portraits are finished, Latimer will send them back to the Memory Project in Wisconsin, where they will be shipped to the refugee camps. The Memory Project will then go back to the refugee camps and eventually send WHS a video of the children receiving their portraits, letting Latimer and her students catch a glimpse of the impact of their work.
Latimer has experience with the process, having worked with students on the Memory Project last year at Reading High School.
“Last year was the first time I had ever participated in one of the Memory Club projects with the Art Club from the school where I was teaching,” Latimer said. “It was a really meaningful experience for everyone involved, so I really wanted to do it with students here in Wayland.”
The Memory Project works with participants from all over the world. This is the first time they are working with Syrian refugees.
“It is my hope that by creating portraits for these children we are letting them know that someone far away cares about their well-being,” Latimer said. “The Syrian people have suffered greatly during the past five years of their country’s civil war. If receiving a portrait provides any joy to the recipient and their families, it is a worthwhile endeavor.”
Latimer hopes that her students will have a meaningful experience making portraits that will serve as a reminder to people living in very difficult situations that people care about them.
“Participating in something like this makes you think about what is going on in the rest of the world and helps us to think beyond our everyday experiences,” Latimer said. “It serves as a reminder of our global citizenship and our inter-connectedness.”