A series of artworks done by Preuss School students spread throughout UC San Diego campus promotes inclusivity while questioning whether guaranteed U.S. Constitutional rights are being equitably applied to all people.
The 21-year-old Preuss School UC San Diego is a unique charter middle and high school for low-income students striving to become the first in their families to graduate from college. Preuss graduates are accepted to four-year colleges and universities at a rate of more than 90 percent, with nearly 100 percent going on to higher education.
Created by students of Preuss art teacher Tamima Noorzay, the more than 900-square-foot student mural is themed “We the people … I am Preuss.”
The mural is composed of individual student art cut up and collaged into portraits. Those portraits were then scanned and digitally cut up by collaborating Baltimore-based artist Jay Wolf Schossberg-Cohen, who re-collaged them into new images. Each reconstituted "portrait" contains a great deal of student writing that was created alongside their artworks, with quotes added to some of the art pieces.
The student mural artwork was done over the 2020-2021 school year over Zoom and the painting was completed by the students and finished this fall, except for the dedication panel.
Noorzay said the student mural originated during Zoom classes when “we were trying to think of a way to build community the way we do when we’re in-person, so collaboration was what we went to.” She added professional artist Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen’s participation was also “all about collaboration,” while pointing out, “I’ve been here for eight years, I’ve been trying to get a mural for eight years,” as murals were previously forbidden until just recently on university buildings.
Noting he “grew up in theater,” Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen specializes in collaborative art and has led numerous such projects.
“I’ve been painting almost 50 years and doing community-based public art collaborating with people and artists for 21 years,” he said adding, “My work is about involving the voice of the community directly in the work. So my mural-making is folky-style. What’s important in the outcome is engaging communities in creating work based on really intense issues.”
Asked while leading a tour through the mural if her students perceive themselves as feeling left out, Noorzay replied: “I think the tide is finally shifting. I’ve talked to juniors and seniors who say that they don’t feel out of place. The mission of our school is that our students can walk in through the front door aggressively seeking their future and well prepared for it holding their heads up high, so they don’t feel like second-class citizens.”
Added Noorzay, “Why we wanted to do this mural is because we want our school environment to be empowering other students on their personal narrative. So it’s ok to be an immigrant or to have lived through adversity. It’s not despite the adversity that you become great, it’s 'because' you know how to persevere, rise above, be a participant at the table.”
Artwork by first-generation American students drew the socially conscious Baltimore artist to the Preuss art project.
“These kids are really smart and they have a passion for America, which of course is why they came here,” Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen said. “They’re asking, ‘Where do we fit in here?’ This mural responds to that.”
“Each of these columns is one student’s work, one student’s portrait of themselves, their family, how they got to the United States or things that they did,” said Noorzay continuing her mural tour pointing to a student’s portrait wrapping around a column. “You have to engage with it a little bit more than just staring at it from the front,” she said. “I like that there’s some abstraction. You have to really think about what you’re looking at. It makes it more engaging.”
Of her student’s artwork, Noorzay commented: “Some of them are just lovely memories that students have. Some of them just travel stories. Some of them are extremely harsh and tug at your heartstrings.”
Wolf Schlossberg-Cohen characterized the collaborative art he does as being about social justice and being “transformational,” for himself as well as his collaborators.
“My goal is very simple: If I can touch one life, I’ve done my job,” he said. “It’s the idea of, ‘How many people have you gotten to work on this, and how many people have you really touched and shifted?’ You can do that through art. I’ve seen people change in front of me.”
Noorzay said the student mural will likely be formally dedicated after the first of the year in 2022.