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Culture Clash

How does this award-winning artist explore her relationship with her mother?

Sekai Berry, 17, Gold Medal, Painting. Images courtesy of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and the Scholastic Art & Writing Award Winners of 2020.

What ideas does Berry explore in her painting?

Sekai Berry makes her best art when there are no rules. Using pattern and color, she expresses her subject’s vulnerabilities and fears. A senior at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Berry, 17, hopes to study art in college and pursue a career as an artist.

What inspired this painting?

An argument with my mother! She is from Zimbabwe and I’m very much an American girl. My mother has this expectation of how my sister and I should behave, and her cultural expectations often clash with ours. She is also an amazing woman. As a single mom, she is raising us in a culture that is foreign to her. I wanted to paint something that expressed my feelings about this.


How did you develop the composition?

I’m not good at realistic art, so I decided to portray my mother on the left and myself on the right, using the abstract style I am most comfortable with. My mom is constantly reminding me to be ladylike. To depict this mother-daughter dynamic, I used scale and body language. I made myself smaller in a playful pose. My mother is larger and has one hand on her chin in a typical, worrisome mother pose.


How do you use pattern?

I used pattern to stress the cultural distinctions between the figures. For my mother’s face, I drew patterns inspired by African face painting. I used wavy lines to create her tight curly hair. For myself, I used pattern to represent parts of my body, like the elbow, hair on the arms, the ears. I used looser wavy lines for my hair. I wanted the patterns in our figures to be different to underscore my lack of African culture.


Do you have any advice for aspiring artists? 

Don’t be constrained by other people’s notions of what art has to be. As young artists, we’re in a unique position to experiment. Take advantage of this

Sophia Rice won a Gold Medal for her work in the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. To learn more about this program, visit artandwriting.org


Sekai Berry, 17, Gold Medal, Painting. Images courtesy of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and the Scholastic Art & Writing Award Winners of 2020.

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