Teens Put the “I” in Identity-Themed Exhibit

By Maura Sheedy – 12th Grade, Oakland Catholic High School

Teenage years are crucial to forming an identity. With increased freedom and a newfound perspective of the world, a teen’s identity is constantly shifting and changing. Many find themselves questioning who they are or who they want to be, especially during a time when things are suddenly not-so-clear and the future is even more uncertain.

As teenagers’ identities are seemingly dynamic, I found it interesting that the Mattress Factory’s Teen Co-op program’s final exhibit on August 7 was titled and themed around identity. I spoke to Sarah LaPonte, the program’s director, about why they chose the theme of identity.

“We actually didn’t choose the theme,” she explained. “We let the kids choose it themselves. They brainstormed and bounced off a few ideas, and then settled on identity. They each were then able to interpret it their own way.”

The exhibit stretched from right outside the museum’s doors and filled the entire lobby. Tables displayed projects produced from artist workshops, walls were embellished with student pieces, and impressive 3-D pieces were displayed throughout.  Outside, visitors entered an interactive piece: a large “bubble” the size of a small room made from decorated thin white fabric. Live music played as people walked around talking, eating, and admiring the art. I could’ve mistaken it for an exhibit opening by the pros.

Walking around, I observed the different pieces of art on display. Pieces ranged from photography to sculpture, using materials like poster board, window pens, and mud.

The artists each chose a different way to attack the theme of identity.

Hannah and her piece

Hannah and her piece

Hannah, 14, represented her own identity by making a paper-maché piece of something she loves: dragons. Her mother, who is a Mt. Lebanon librarian, is constantly bringing home books. She recently brought home a book called Nimona, and Hannah loved the dragon in it.  She created a paper-maché replica of the dragon described in the book to reflect her love of books, graphic novels, and dragons.

Isabelle and her piece

Isabelle and her piece

On the other side of the room sat a simple, yet polished, display of a chair, table, typewriter, and clothesline made by Isabelle. Unsure of where to go with her project, she captured her uncertainty with a piece that tackles the issue of not knowing what identity really is. We are not always able to describe our own identity, and sometimes it is hard to know its true definition, as people have their own variation of what it means. Instructions incorporated into the piece invited viewers to write their own definition of identity with the typewriter and display it on the clothesline. In this interactive piece, it was just as fun to write your own interpretation of the word as to see how other deciphered it.

Kathryn and her piece

Kathryn and her piece

As a rising senior in high school, Kathryn chose to focus on how identity changes throughout life. She took this to a personal level, reflecting specifically on how her rapidly upcoming 18th birthday will affect her own identity. Becoming a legal adult will have its joys, but also its consequences, and the adventures following this significant birthday will be sure to change her. She made her message clear by displaying birthday cakes decorated with increasing ages, ending with the big one-eight. On the windows around it, Kathryn used markers to write quotes that she associates with age and its significance.

Rachael-Kate and her piece

Rachael-Kate and her piece

The piece that Rachael-Kate, an incoming freshman, created embodied her identity by incorporating a few of her art preferences such as geometric shapes, fluorescents, and human forms, but also offered a deeper message surrounding the concept of identity. She hoped to convey that a person may fit into one specific mold, but there is more depth behind them. To others, it may seem like we believe one view or act in a distinct way, but we all know that identity is more complex than that. Our motivation, thoughts, and views are much more intricate than what others perceive. Who we are and why is the result of countless experiences and interactions that have shaped each of us.

Identity was a wonderful exhibit to view, and I am sure just as wonderful for the artists to create. It was great to hear the ideas around the pieces straight from the artists themselves and get a taste of their own identity through their art. Special thanks to all the teens, guest artists, and those at Mattress Factory for their hard work in putting together Identity.

For more photos from the exhibit, click through the slideshow below. 

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Maura Sheedy 1Maura Sheedy is a rising senior at Oakland Catholic High School who lives in Thornburg.  She previously has been a part of Young Writers Institute.  She considers random things she has seen on the Internet to be her muse for her writing. She enjoys lacrosse, cheer, dance, and blogging.

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