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The Kara Walker Experience. An Art and Social Studies Quest for Meaningful Learning Cecily Spano Nonie Kouneski. Student reaction to first viewing of Kara Walker exhibit. “I didn’t know what to think.  I didn’t want to be a part of it.  I was ashamed to be part of it.”

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the kara walker experience

The Kara Walker Experience

An Art and Social Studies Quest for Meaningful Learning

Cecily Spano Nonie Kouneski

student reaction to first viewing of kara walker exhibit
Student reaction to first viewing of Kara Walker exhibit
  • “I didn’t know what to think.  I didn’t want to be a part of it.  I was ashamed to be part of it.”
  • “Shocked.  I didn’t get it at first.  I had no reaction.   I was just blank.”
  • “Grossed out.  Really uneasy.”
  • “Why did a guy have a baby and what is her obsession with guy on guy action. . .to me if she were trying to do art on racism and slavery make it more realistic on what happened, not guys having babies and stuff.”
student reactions continued
Student reactions continued:
  • “Shocked, I didn’t know what I was going into!”
  • “No immediate reaction.  When I studied it more, (The student returned to look at the exhibit two or more times) I started to get it.”
  • “I looked at it as art.   I tried figuring it out as art.  First as art, and then I tried to think about the meaning later.”
  • “I didn’t believe it.   I thought her work was an over reaction.”
the kara walker unit
The Kara Walker Unit
  • Race Curriculum
  • Art Curriculum
  • Working with an Artist
  • Going to the Walker
  • Creating an Art show in the Kara Walker art show
research question
Research Question
  • Does Art infused curriculum, in a collaborative model, help students create better work and learn more?
  • Three elements:
    • Relationships/Collaboration
    • Art
    • History
why do this project
Why Do This Project?
  • The Kids, and who they are. . .
    • 22 students
    • 13 boys and 9 girls
    • 5 African Americans
    • 2 Mexican Americans
    • 1 Asian (exchange student from China)
    • The rest White
    • Low to middle income
    • Creative, not a lot of buy-in to traditional school
quotes shows type of kids
Quotes (shows type of kids)
  • “At first I really didn’t want to do it because I didn’t know what it was!”
  • My mom made me feel bad. . .about 15 minutes into the tour she asked if I’d feel bad if she left. This did really make me feel bad and made me a little quieter during everything.”
  • We believed this to be the most important factor in academic success for this group of students.

Relationship Question:  What would the development of relationship within the classroom do to the level academic success?


student to teacher student to artist

teacher to teacher Student to curriculum

student to student

quotes about relationship
Quotes About Relationship
  • “Everyone else was great motivation, I can’t really talk about it enough...the chemistry our class has was really motivation for me.  Knowing I had all of those people to back me up if something went down....I mean we are a very obnoxious class, and to see us all come together and  help each other out when the help is needed, I think that’s such a good quality to have, and to have in a group of kids like us is really cool!”
relationship quotes cont
Relationship quotes cont.
  • “ I feel like a stranger in other classes.  In this class we know each other and respect each other.   They’re the only classes I go to and pay attention.”
  • “The group as a whole. Spano really kept me going because it seemed really important to her.”
  • “When I met Leah I really did get excited, she knew it was our response and she didn’t make us do anything we didn’t want to do”
relationship continued
Relationship continued:
  • “The best part was getting to know my classmates in a way I didn’t know them. It drew us together in a way I will not forget. Also, allowing Spano and Ms. K to get to know us, that most teachers wouldn’t even try to see about us.”
  • “What made me keep going was my other peers and Spano and Ms. K. They showed me much respect and believed I could do it.”
relationship continued14
Relationship continued:
  • The group experience, there was both individual and group understanding. There’s a lot more respect and trust in the class now.”
  • To trust people, (students and students, students and teachers). To be respectful and understand other perspectives.”
relationships continued
Relationships continued:
  • I had no idea what was going on in the Kara Walker show. Going through it with my teachers and classmates helped me better to know it wasn’t crazy. In fact it was real.”
  • I was surprised they (teachers) trusted us to do this. It was really heavy and hard to deal with.”
relationship continued16
Relationship continued:
  • “We talked about it and got over being awkward. Finally we were talking straight to the point. We had to dig deep into what we thought. We knew we were safe to do that.”
art goal
Art Goal
  • Artists use their work to convey meaning.  I wanted to see them use artistic tools and concepts to create meaning for the themselves.
quotes about art
Quotes about Art
  • “Completely different.  We’ve never gone to a museum. Never seen an art show”
  • “We were more focused on art.  It felt like we were missing a whole month of history”
  • “The show (Kara Walker show) expresses the hatred in a very clear way. . .maybe her goal is to lead people into this emotion.”
art quotes continued
Art quotes continued
  • “You have to make the meaning for yourself. The purpose of the exaggerated is to bring attention to what it was like.  If it wasn’t vulgar, shocking, violent it wouldn’t make a statement”
  • I’d have liked more time to look at the exhibit, look deeply into stuff in particular.”
  • Watching the movie helped a lot. It gave me a different perspective. Like what Walker might be thinking.”
art quotes continued20
Art quotes continued:
  • We have a better understanding of the resources to understand art.”
  • I know what I am talking about when I see art. It taught me a way to look at art.”
history goal
History Goal

Historical Content should be present in the creation and presentation of the student works of art.

  • Knowledge verses Understanding
quotes about history
Quotes about History
  • Actually I think the history book told us about that kind of history, its just not a picture, it’s words. But, when I saw the pictures, it’s a different experience than reading. I haven’t got more knowledge, but I understand it better.”
history quotes continued
History quotes continued:
  • “I knew what racism was and how it effected people. . .but I saw racism in a different way after going to the exhibit. I never realized how harsh and sexual and creepy it was. Well I did, I just never saw something like this, when it was big, and displayed on the wall like it was, it was so strong that now I understand a little more about the history of slavery and racism.”
history quotes continued24
History quotes continued:
  • “Idea for Kara Walker piece and immigration, Army green silloutes for boarder patrol, brown for Latin American immigrants. Putting the abuse of immigrat as they cross to the U.S. Kara Walker style.” (not gonna happen)
history quotes continued25
History quotes continued:
  • “I used the stereotypes and things (in his work) that we use today about racism, and Kara Walker used the Stereotypes from way back, and it kind a came out to me as like present to past stereotypes in the world.”
  • “I know that the history of racism was bad, filled with anger, people killing each other and so on. But what I’ve learned is that it goes father than what we know about it today. It kind a woke me up to the real world that was kind a been hidden from us.”
history continued
History continued:
  • A lot of us realized the truth about slavery. I got a better understanding of going to that limit. (When questioned about what he meant by “limit” the group began a discussion of power including the brutality of slavery, racism, and sexual behavior. How they hadn’t understood what really happened before even though they had “studied” slavery and the Civil War. They all agreed that Kara Walker displayed a “truth” about racism and slavery they hadn’t known before.
other indicators
Other indicators
  • Grades
  • Attendance
  • “Miss K said that we’re the ones that can stop racism. Us a group. If anybody can do it, it’s us for sure.”