Student View

Painted Perceptions

How does this award-winning artist support a friend through her art?

Sierra Darmaga, 15, Gold Medal, Painting. Images courtesy of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and the Scholastic Art & Writing Award Winners of 2021.

How does Sierra use color and composition to emphasize her ideas?

For Sierra Darmaga, 15, art is a way to process and express emotions. In the painting above, she depicts a friend establishing his true gender identity. The work vibrates with Sierra’s feelings as a witness to his experience. A junior at Ridley College, in Niagra, Ontario, in Canada, Sierra hopes to combine her interests in medicine and art in a career as a cosmetic surgeon. 

What inspired this painting?

It was inspired by a lifelong friend who came out as transgender. He was ostracized, and a lot of people misgendered him as a girl. He suffered from dissociation, the feeling of not being in your proper body. It really affected me to see him suffer this way.

What medium did you use? Why?

Acrylic paint was perfect for this work, because it allowed me to create transitional shades and provided the brightness I was looking for. I used a range of bright colors, because I didn’t want my representation of dissociation to seem dull. I wanted it to feel aggressive and vibrant. The different colors also helped to create a separation between the layers in the painting and emphasized the transition in a person’s gender identity.

What was most challenging?

I kept getting lost because it is three images of the same face. There are six eyes, and painting them was dizzying. The more color I added, the more dizzying it became. 

What did you want viewers to walk away with?

I wanted viewers to understand the pain, the struggle, and the reality of what it is like to be transgender. A lot of people deny that transgender people exist. They say it’s all in your head. But gender dysphoria, the distress a person feels when their gender identity doesn’t match their sex assigned at birth, is a very real experience. 

Do you have advice for aspiring artists like yourself?

Get out of your comfort zone. You’ll never grow as an artist or know what you’re capable of creating unless you challenge yourself.

Sierra Darmaga won a Gold Medal for her painting in the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

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