Art Tells the Story at ICA Exhibit


Stories that Make Us exhibits work by high school students. (Source: Liza Voll)

By Yongyu Qiu (I) and Alice Li (V)

Immerse yourself in the inspiring messages of the Stories that Make Us exhibit in the Teen Gallery at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s (ICA) Seaport studio. Opened on January 31 and up for display from Tuesday to Thursday each week until May 26, this new exhibit showcases artwork by high school students who delve into personal narratives to explore themes of migration, belonging and resilience.

Organized, planned and installed by the ICA Teens Exhibition Program (TEP), this exhibit weaves together the powerful stories behind each piece of art. The purpose is to share the unique experiences of individuals whose voices are not always heard, such as students who have disabilities or are immigrants.

According to the museum website, the exhibit “embodies how different stories intersect and finds the commonalities we all have with one another,” aligning with the program’s goal of using art to foster community and growth.

TEP member Samantha Pincus (I) explains, “We like to uplift voices that are not always heard and give them a space to express themselves.”

TEP is a group of teens based in Boston who work collectively to curate and install artwork in the ICA Teen Gallery, focusing on highlighting the art of teenagers and encouraging community involvement. The program offers two exhibitions a year, and the previous exhibit, Sides of Me: Exploring Connections, focused on mental health and the struggles people face in times of uncertainty.

The group also works on smaller projects throughout the year, collaborating with artists around Boston. From these experiences, the teens are able to apply what they have learned to plan their own exhibits.

Another TEP member, Leandra Bautista (II), says, “Being in TEP feels like being part of a family […] It’s refreshing to see such a diverse group come together to collaborate on art.”

In preparation for the opening, TEP started by evaluating more than a dozen design proposals submitted by potential artists. Then, they interviewed the artists to understand their  thoughts on the exhibit’s goals and talked with the ICA curatorial staff members in order to envision a layout and environment that combines common themes.

TEP organized The Stories That Make Us in conjunction with I Learn America (ILA), an education program that seeks to address immigration issues and amplify the voices of young immigrants through personal works and stories.

ILA started working with students to design their artwork two years before being introduced to TEP. They met with artists around Massachusetts from the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Everett High School, Boston International Newcomers Academy and Engaging Newcomers in Language and Content Education Academy at Lawrence High School to create panels based on their personal experiences for display in the exhibit. These artists’ incorporation of stories into their works offers a glimpse into the diverse experiences, evoking strong feelings of compassion and understanding in viewers.

The exhibit also contains an interactive side. A wall is set up for visitors to add their own story in a panel, creating a sense of belonging. Bautista comments, “[The project conveys] the hope […] that people [can] relate and leave their story, and the belief that sharing one’s story helps others share theirs.”

Hannah Oh (I) echoes, “The pieces were evocative, and I felt that I related to many of them.” The artwork in The Stories That Make Us features stories of hardship from disabled students and those with unique backgrounds, giving a voice to underrepresented communities. The display is well worth exploring while it lasts!