Up to 16 New Haven high school students can explore gender identity this summer through art mediums, ranging from painting to poetry, thanks to a summer apprenticeship program run by Artspace, a nonprofit contemporary art gallery in New Haven.

Artspace, which will give New Haven residents currently enrolled in high school until June 1 to apply for a spot, will offer the program for three weeks in July. The apprenticeship is set to meet on weekday afternoons and will bring local artists together with the young people to discuss gender and identity issues and help them create their own pieces.

The students’ work will be put on display at Artspace from July 22 to Sept. 10. Participants will also receive a $150 stipend if they attend every day of the session. But above all, Artspace gallery director Sarah Fritchey said, participants will benefit from exploring their own identities and communicating them to their communities artistically.

“High school is the time when you are figuring yourself out and questioning your identity,” Fritchey said, adding that the program will provide “a new level of access” as well as mentorship for high schoolers to discuss issues around gender and sexuality.

The theme for Artspace’s summer apprenticeship changes each year, with last year’s focus being on race and incarceration.

In line with the gallery’s desire to continue having socially engaged projects, Fritchey said gender was chosen as this year’s focus to ensure that a positive space exists for LGBTQ teenagers.

Titus Kaphar ART ’06, whose work focuses on race and has been featured in New York’s Museum Of Modern Artwork and the Yale University Art Gallery, served as the program’s lead artist last year.  Last year’s participants created works of art based on his Jerome Project, a series of inmate portraits he found while looking for his father’s prison records, Fritchey stated. To inspire the students, Fritchey said, the high schoolers met with visiting speakers, some of which had been formerly incarcerated, and went on a field trip to a correctional facility.

The students used art to either reflect on mass incarceration in broad terms, or tell a personal story of how incarceration had affected them, Fritchey said.

Ruby Gonzalez, a high school senior who splits her school day between New Haven Academy and the ACES Educational Center for the Arts, explained that her final project was an abstract painting of her own representation of the prison she visited.

“The windows were so, so small and foggy,” she recalled. “It was dehumanizing.”

Gonzalez added that the mental image of the windows stuck with her, lingering in her mind throughout her car ride home. It was the image’s salience, she said, that helped her realize she should base her piece on it.

Gonzalez noted that although she did not expect the program to be as impactful as it was, it ultimately made her a more political and socially conscious artist and helped her combine her passion for activism and feminism with her passion for art.

She said members of her family who have been deported to Mexico were kept in deportation centers that she described as “zoo-like jails.” She said that what she has been told about these centers also informed her art.

Wardell Milan ART ’04, who will be this year’s lead artist, has experience in a number of different mediums including photography, collages and painting.

He said his work deals with ideas of femininity and gender, particularly the space between the traditional gender binary of male and female. His current work features these themes displayed within large dioramas — 3-D models of landscapes.

Milan said the program will give students the opportunity to collaborate with a number of different artists, including performance artists, to create works informed by different mediums.

But most importantly, he said, the program will enable students to speak to “their own personal maturity as it relates to sexuality, gender and politics and how they interact with and view the world.”

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