Teenagers don’t always tell you what they’re feeling; often, they show you. And Rep. Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, said the challenges of the past year are evident in the artwork submitted in the 8th Congressional District’s art competition.
The 125 entries, he said, provide a window into the lives of teenagers, and the artwork “is a reflection of how so many of them have channeled these feelings of despair in some cases, or loneliness in others, and hope, into beautiful artwork.”
The first-place winner is Yun Ji Choi, 16, of Rockville, who attends Walter Johnson High School and is enrolled in the visual arts magnet program at Einstein High School.
Choi said that between worrying whether someone she loved could be directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and spending her junior year of high school taking classes from home, “There have been some difficult times.”
Her submission for the competition was a digital self-portrait that includes her cat, Oliver.
Raskin said, “It’s a beautiful rendering of the relationship between a person and an animal. It’s just a gorgeous piece of art.”
But something else resonated with Raskin: “Her piece of art is strikingly comforting.” And that’s what Choi intended.
Over the course of the year, being separated from friends and typical high school social activities, Oliver was always there. “Whenever I just look at him, it makes me calm down significantly. And it makes my mood so much better,” she said.
The title of the piece is “Promise to Keep You Safe.” Choi said she wanted to create a comforting scene, and she also said, “It’s, like, my duty, of course, as an owner to take care of him and make him feel safe — like he has done for me.”
Choi said she was grateful, and shocked, to learn her piece had won first place. And she credited her teachers at Einstein, Mygenet Harris and Jane Walsh, with helping her work remotely and prepare her piece for the competition.
Raskin said the contest showcased a diverse array of stunning work: “Some are working in graphite pencil; some are working in acrylic paint. Some are working in oil paint.” He joked that he made sure that professional artists had the tough job of selecting a winner. Five local artists were involved, and Raskin said their trained eyes were as dazzled as he was. “This batch of entries just completely took their breath away.”
Choi’s work will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol along with entries from congressional districts across the country. Seventeen second-place winners will have their works exhibited in Raskin’s congressional offices.
As soon as it’s safe to do so, Raskin said, he hopes to invite Choi and all the young artists to the Capitol to celebrate their work.