The New York City Art Teachers Association/United Federation of Teachers is the professional organization for Art Educators in New York City. NYCATA/UFT is Region 8 of 10 regions of the New York State Art Teachers Association (NYSATA).
NYCATA/UFT membership includes public school art teachers (K-12), common branch and special education licensed teachers, non-public school art teachers, art administrators, university and museum art educators. Our Mission is: To encourage and support Art Educators and a quality art program on all levels of education.
One objective of the organization is to advocate for art education within our field and in our community (city, state and national level). I strongly believe that arts teachers can be the biggest advocates for the arts by promoting their craft and validating their profession as arts teachers. As proponents of the arts, one way that NYCATA/UFT advocates for the arts is by having yearly spring and fall artist teacher exhibitions at various galleries in New York City. The NYCATA/UFT spring exhibition entitled: “Portraits” was held at the Boricua College Gallery in New York City. A part of the Portrait exhibition traveled to the Queens Museum for the USSEA (United States Society for Education Through Art) conference organized by Vida Sabbaghi, founder of COPE NYC. The works of: Joan L. Davidson (President of NYCATA/UFT and painter), Anu Androneth Sieunarine (curator of exhibitions and painter), Margarita Ballester (retired ESL teacher and Photographer), Lisa Kaplan (Middle school Art Teacher and fine artist – drawing), Jackie Cruz (Elementary school art Teacher and photographer), Erin-Marie Elman (Middle School Art teacher and painter), Joseph Zabar (retired art teacher and photographer), Laurence Sachs (ESL teacher and photographer), Albert Justiniano ( High School art teacher, curator and painter) and Clare Stokolosa (retired art teacher and painter) were on display at the museum and were also a component of : “The Enigma of Portraits” gallery talk and studio workshop presented by Anu, Lisa and Erin-Marie.
Many of the photos in the portrait exhibition reminded me of Dorothea Lange who stated: “One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind. To live a visual life is an enormous undertaking, practically unattainable. I’ve only touched it, just touched it.” Her photo that many of us know as “Migrant Mother“ is one of a series of photographs that Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March -1936 during the great depression. While Lange’s subject (Florence Owens) gazes into nothingness at the camera lens, we the viewers penetrate our gaze into the soul of both the artist and their subjects. Similarly, Zabar’s photo of a woman’s face draped with a black veil and Sieunarine’s painting of Portrait of a Girl, and Joan Davidson’s Self Portrait, creates that same instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances or mood prevalent in Lange’s Migrant Mother. A portrait allows the artist to capture time, history, place, culture and intrigue all in one snap shot, one line or many brush strokes. Ballester’s photo of Ceila Cruz captured history in a different jubilant way expressing joy and triumph in a parade scene. While Lange believed that “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” So, too, can a painting teach us how to see and feel without a brush.
The gallery talk took the participants into the minds of the artists (some were participants themselves) as their portraits became a tool for documentation and aesthetic expression that reveals a moment in time and life. Artists, Lange said, are controlled by the life that beats in them, like the ocean beats on the shore. The workshop participants talked about the portraits in terms of: the sitters or subjects, the moods, the colors and texture and the relationship of the artists and the sitters/subjects. One participant said pointing to the self-portrait of Joan Davidson, “I saw this woman yesterday at the conference” and so they wondered about the subjects’ themselves – about their lives and the stories in the stare of their eyes.
After the gallery talk the participants participated in a gallery workshop on portraits. It consisted of three stages. First they took photos of each other exploring space, mood, and time. Then they did a blind contour of the photo of themselves to caress the silhouette of their face followed by a symbolic portrait of themselves – how can they express who they are using life stories and symbolism? How can they snap a shot of beauty and life like Lange did? Although she showed the hard lives of Americans she captured her subject’s beauty and essentially unchanging eternal snapshots of history, of truths, of art, and of life. Perhaps it is true what they say – a picture (a portrait) is worth a thousand words.
Dr. Anu Androneth Sieunarine
Curator of exhibitions
 Dorothea Lange in 1965 © 1997, Rondal Partridge