O’Bryant School students honor Harlem Renaissance
ROXBURY — A portrait of a blue and orange Louis Armstrong blasting his trumpet greets students as they enter the lobby of the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science.
A handful of other paintings on a wall captures scenes of favorite jazz clubs and nightlife in Harlem. In the center, a sculpture of shoes arranged on vintage suitcases alludes to the Great Migration, when 300,000 African-Americans moved north after World War I.
All of these works were created by O’Bryant art students who paid homage to the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration with their own exhibition, “Harlem Renaissance,” which opened Jan. 30.
The gallery features more than 100 student works that are based off a Harlem Renaissance artist or work. The exhibit includes still-lifes, sculptures, portraits, and a mural. It has been developed for more than eight weeks. Lenira Dos Reis, the art teacher at O’Bryant who spearheaded the project, chose the theme to reflect what she feels are relevant social issues.
“We get to celebrate the accomplishments and success of the African-American artists in the 1910s and the 1920s that empowered them,” Dos Reis said. “A lot of times, this isn’t something people tend to celebrate. So it’s like for the students, ‘Oh my god, my teacher’s interested in Black History.’ ”
Students were asked to write an artist statement that explains and analyzes the connections between their work and the historical significance of the time period.
Dos Reis further engaged her students by assigning them to research the history behind the Harlem Renaissance and the artwork they’d mimic. She often fostered discussions through questions she’d ask her students.
The Harlem Renaissance occurred between the 1910s to the 1930s. The movement encompassed art of all mediums, including visual, literary, and theatrical works. Writers such as Langston Hughes rose to fame, and black musicians also stole the spotlight. Jazz permeated through the streets.
The O’Bryant school is a college preparatory school in Roxbury that focuses on math and science. Students must take an entrance exam to enroll. Though strong in science and math courses, O’Bryant school lacked art programs and classes until recently. Dos Reis said that because the rigorous workload can be stressful for some students, art classes became a welcome addition to the school.
The gallery will remain on display until this semester’s art students put out their exhibition. “I’m telling you once the art came up, it brought everyone together,” Dos Reis said. “This is educational for everybody, but it’s also celebratory.”