Grade 12 students at Beijing National Day School (BNDS) have been using art to grapple with questions of identity. The artworks, which they produced as part of their IB Diploma Programme (IBDP), were displayed in an exhibition called Identity of Self: Presence, held at the school on 3 March 2017.
The exhibition was the brainchild of Matthew A. Goetz, who teaches IB English A: Language and Literature.
“English students in the IB Diploma Programme at Beijing National Day School live in two distinct yet complementary worlds,” he told us. “They are enrolled in an international curriculum, yet they attend a Chinese public high school, both of which — the IBDP and BNDS — are often considered elite, particularly in Beijing. But what does it mean to be “elite”? What identities are “elite”? How do the complex features of one’s identity influence a hierarchy of “elites”?
“Having read Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández text titled The Best of the Best: Becoming Elite and an American Boarding School, IB English A: Language and Literature students began to consider these questions, reflecting upon their own individual identities: and about roles, rules, and rituals embedded within how they see themselves, how others see them, and how to navigate the gulf that can occasionally exist between the two.”
The work they created was developed out of their wider studies, with professional input, Goetz said.
“I have been instructing the work on identity through literary and non-literary work. Lessons related to art were team-taught with our visiting IB Art teacher, who also happens to be a practicing artist and Professor of Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.”
Students analyzed their own work in their artistic statements.
“In my artwork,” said student Emma Tao, “I drew myself examining my own self-portrait while, paradoxically, the painting overall is also a self-portrait. Because the audience is unable to view the self-portrait within the painting, they can only get a glimpse of what this self-portrait contains through looking at the figure drawn beside the easel. The audience’s inability to view the painter’s representation of herself shows the difficulty for external entities to truly understand my underlying identities. Even the figure of myself in the painting is not confident about the accuracy of my own drawing, as evidenced by her thoughtful facial expression, which illustrates another layer of complexity for other people to understand my identity.”
“Their work is particularly remarkable,” Goetz said, “because of the nature of their outward existence of the complex tapestry of both being Chinese non-native English speakers and being students at an elite Chinese public school with a demanding international curriculum taught in English to prepare them for university overseas.”
Photos: courtesy of Beijing National Day School