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Nina Berman and Gotham Professional Arts Academy

MAY 17, 2010

Whitney educators and 2010 artist Nina Berman recently worked with a group of high school students from one of the Whitney’s partnership schools, Gotham Professional Arts Academy, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.

Students create three-dimensional representations of trauma and stress using clay and pipe cleaners. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students create three-dimensional representations of trauma and stress using clay and pipe cleaners. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

The three-part program began with a visit by a Whitney educator to a social studies class in which the students were exploring the nature of war through novels, short stories, memoirs, and films.

During the first classroom visit, students saw several of Nina Berman’s images including Ty with gun, 2008, from Marine Wedding, 2006/2008. Pigment print, 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy Jen Bekman projects

During the first classroom visit, students saw several of Nina Berman’s images including Ty with gun, 2008, from Marine Wedding, 2006/2008. Pigment print, 10 × 15 in. (25.4 × 38.1 cm). Collection of the artist, courtesy Jen Bekman projects

During the pre-visit, the Museum educator introduced the students to some images from Nina Berman’s series of photographs, Marine Wedding, on view now in the Biennial. The series documents the marriage of former Marine sergeant Ty Ziegel to his high school sweetheart. Ty was severely disfigured in a suicide bomber’s attack in Iraq, and his story presented a way for students to think about how the trauma of war continues to impact the lives of soldiers, even after their return home.

One student’s representation of trauma and stress. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

One student’s representation of trauma and stress. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

The students then created three-dimensional representations of trauma and stress using clay and pipe cleaners. Some students created literal representations of trauma, while others chose to make more figurative images of the feeling.

Nina Berman and the students discuss the experience of war. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Nina Berman and the students discuss the experience of war. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

On April 28, the class came to the Museum to meet with Nina Berman and see her work firsthand. The artist discussed her commitment to documenting soldiers’ lives after leaving the battlefield.

Watch a video of Nina Berman discussing Marine Wedding.

After having the students listen to Iraqi War veterans’ interviews featured in her documentary Purple Hearts, Berman took small groups of students to the galleries to discuss her photographs.

Students presented their ideas about paintings and photographs with war themes. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

Students presented their ideas about paintings and photographs with war themes. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

The students completed their museum visit by looking at other works of art about war selected by Berman.  The students then wrote and presented their ideas and opinions about the photographs and paintings they had seen.

A group of students brainstorms ideas for their graphic novel. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

A group of students brainstorms ideas for their graphic novel. Photograph by Ai Wee Seow

In early May, the same Whitney educator returned to Gotham and asked students to write their own war stories. After brainstorming their ideas individually, students worked in small groups to create short graphic novels inspired by what they had learned about war.

This program is part of the classroom collaborative series, a three-part series during which a Museum educator works with the classroom teacher to design a customized program. The Museum educator goes to the school before and after the Museum visit.

By Sarah Meller, Education Assistant