Art News

Listen to Our Cries Projects the Politics of Youth

Listen to Our Cries gives a political voice to 30 high schoolers from the Denver area.
Listen to Our Cries gives a political voice to 30 high schoolers from the Denver area. PlatteForum
PlatteForum's ArtLab program offers studio internships to a selection of high school students from the Denver area to develop their artistic sensibilities through workshops and projects with professional artists. The program encourages the interns to explore social issues through artwork; the most recent internships will culminate in the exhibition Listen to Our Cries, which is now on view through Friday, March 18.

Gun violence, climate change and persecution of identity are among the issues represented through the thirty pieces. Topics are decided by the 2021 ArtLab class, which comprises thirty teenagers who range in age from fourteen to eighteen. Seventeen-year-old Ai explains that interns researched their topics through discussions with local political activists, other artists and members of public service, such as police.

Sixteen-year-old Nevaeh's two works focus on gun violence and her identity. "And Now They Can't" was painted in two weeks to channel anger from her concerns about gun violence being ignored. It's an issue she says "regularly leads to children dropping dead" in schools around the country. The piece is also meant to comfort her younger sister, making her feel less alone in the face of such a struggle, while simultaneously unsettling those of voting age enough to use their political voice.

Listen to Our Cries sees such stories behind all the works on display. The majority of the collection is made by those who believe they don't have a say in the political system. Ultimately, the exhibition is a battle cry, a plea for help and a manifesto of self-reliance.

"Our generation has a lot to say," says Ai. "It's important to see how teenagers perceive the world now versus our parents."
"Rainbow Flow" by Ai, on display in Listen to Our Cries. - PLATTEFORUM
"Rainbow Flow" by Ai, on display in Listen to Our Cries.
Ai's "Rainbow Flow" centers on her immigration to the U.S. as a child. The mixed-media work pieces together a fairytale, a promised land of brightly colored grass, miniature houses, oversized furniture and an abundance of plants and animals.

Nevaeh's expression of her identity involved "Catholic trauma" about repressing her sexuality while in a church-run school. Styled after a traditional Mexican ofrenda, "Stepping Out of the Box" depicts a disembodied hand embellished with crosses clasping shut a lantern.It's something she would not have had the courage to create outside of ArtLab, nor before transferring to a public high school.

"I'm really loud in ArtLab, and I'm not usually like that outside of ArtLab," she explains. "[Seeing] people who are like me open about their sexuality, experiences, race — [it] made me realize I'm not alone. And they're doing art."

But more than anything, Nevaeh's most life-affirming takeaway from ArtLab and Listen to Our Cries has been the fact that permission is not needed to talk about what matters to her.
"Fractured Perceptions" and "Distortion," both by David. - PLATTEFORUM
"Fractured Perceptions" and "Distortion," both by David.
Seventeen-year-old David understands this affirmation better than most. He orchestrated a large-scale, collaborative piece among the class to encapsulate identity, which seemed a better encapsulation of the original theme of LGBTQ+ issues along with other universal topics of self. Displayed throughout the gallery are a torso, arms, hands, lungs and other body parts, each themed toward an intern's struggle with identity.

David's two paintings focus on the head — a focal point of people's self-perception. In both "Fractured Perceptions" and "Distortion," heads are broken into tiny pieces, with the latter being a strikingly realistic self-portrait. Portraiture was where David found most of his resources going in the past months, part of a sign of newfound strength.

"I was given tons of liberty to express myself, become more confident in who I am," he says about his ArtLab experience.

David is proud of the class and its show's political nature. But he's also disappointed that such topics have even become political, especially in recent years. Still, he hopes this collection of "multiple perspectives" will highlight for viewers the importance of listening to each other.

"Youth should be listened to more. What younger generations say shouldn't be overlooked," David says, adding that visitors should "make an effort to understand and comprehend. This is what our future looks like, what our present is like."

Listen to Our Cries, on view through Friday, March 18, at PlatteForum, 2700 Arapahoe Street, Unit 102. For more information, visit PlatteForum's website.
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