Since 1991, the nonprofit Artists for Humanity, based in South Boston, has been providing fine arts training and paid after school and summer jobs to Boston teens, most from low-income households. The students — more than 200 a year — start out in the painting studio, where their first assignment is to make a self-portrait. “They think about who they are and where they’re from,” says nonprofit cofounder Jason Talbot. “The portraits mark a moment in time in their physical, artistic, and emotional development.”
Here are five self-portraits and statements by both current student-artists and ones who have recently finished the program, each revealing something about who they are and what creating art means to them.
Jameel Radcliffe, 19
Living in a lower-class neighborhood, I have always felt as if the odds were against me. I never felt as if I was ever going to be good enough for anything, let alone anything related to art. AFH really changed things for me. When I was younger, I used to draw characters from cartoons. I have come so far since then. Art is definitely going to be a big part of my life for a long time — it can change a lot in a person’s life.
Wanbin (Agnes) Long, 21
When I was a child, I liked looking at paintings. As soon as I saw them, I wanted to learn how to paint. In middle school in China, I used to like being alone in the art studio, but I never felt lonely. I came to the US in 2011. It was very difficult to paint until I came to AFH. I didn’t have the space or resources. I was excited to be able to paint again. I know it is very hard to become an artist, but I am going to try.
Jesus Mendes, 17
I was born in Bani, an amazing and beautiful place in the Dominican Republic. Then I came to a unique little city named Boston. Since I came here I never really had a way to speak my mind or anybody who would be willing to listen . . . until I started to draw and paint to show my thoughts and feelings. The message I’m trying to convey is that wherever you go, you will always be who you are. I’m in Boston, but I’m still Dominican and proud.
Kitauna Parker, 19
To me, art equals voice — my voice. I use art as one of my major tools to communicate with the world. I love art because of the environment it comes with. It’s like a roller coaster flying through clouds. I want to teach others my age and younger that there is hope in life, even if they have nothing to look forward to or anyone to depend on. Painting was my outlet and to this day still is.