Hear Guggenheim staff member Christa Stephens and her 13-year-old son, Kayo, discuss the impact arts and music education has had on him, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
Kayo Stephens: We had to do a black-and-white portrait of ourselves, so we took a picture in black and white originally, and then we had to use pastel. We were given a black pastel and a white pastel. And basically, we had to emulate the light and the shadows and everything, which was quite interesting. I really liked that project. It was quite fun.
Christa Stephens: This conversation was really special because it was a moment, just the two of us being able to really delve into a subject that we don't really talk about, you know? You just go to the museum or, you know, I see his artwork from school, but I don't often ask him, you know, “How did this come about?” or “How do you feel about it?”
Kayo: Basically, the idea was that we had to choose a celebrity or someone famous, and a good picture, put it in black and white as well. We had to use three tones—gray, white, and black—to reproduce that picture. Using the black and the gray was really interesting because you get to see the difference in the shadows
Christa: It was nice to actually hear the reasoning behind what he’s doing. I think just that he appreciates his teachers. He appreciates the work that he’s being given. He's thoughtful about it, I think. He’s like thinking about how he wants to do these different assignments that he’s given.
Kayo: One thing that I did like about art is how it wasn’t that much of a structured, like really, really structured class—like math, like French class, like those kinds of classes. But having art, it was more like a creative process, so you could take more time to do your project.
Christa: His school is very art and music focused. I’m so grateful for that because it’s given him an excuse and a reason to really hone that skill.
Kayo: We had to create a sculpture at first, and it had to be three-dimensional. So what I did was I created a face, and the face was double-sided. So the first side expressed things about social justice and civil rights. The person had an eye patch with the Black Lives Matter fist on it. And his eyebrow and his other eye with the LGBTQ+ rainbow flag. And on the other side it was about COVID-19. So basically, the character had a mask. And in his eyes, it was written, “two million,” because two million people died from the COVID-19 at that point. There’s still more, sadly.
And the one thing that both had in common was I’d put tears. I’d done makeshift tears out of playing cards on both sides of the face, because showing how angry we were—how angry 2020 has made us, and how people in power weren't doing anything about it.
Christa: Being African American, the news was quite dismal with relation to the number of people affected from minority communities. How it was affecting minority communities in the beginning, we didn't know.
Then from March, fast forward to that summer, George Floyd was killed. So again, being a Black woman and Kayo being a Black male, there were a lot of feelings around what was going on. But I didn't want to hide him from it—hide it from him, I should say. I wanted him to know what was going on and understand what was going on.
He was 12, so he turned 13 in September. In retrospect, I think it was okay because I feel like having that reality helped him to be aware of what was going on. But it was definitely a decision and something that I had to think about—and my husband as well. How much bad news do we want him to see every day?
Kayo: I was able to express how I felt about today’s world and about chaos. And how chaotic today’s society is.
To read the full transcript, visit: https://www.guggenheim.org/audio/track/a-mother-son-conversation-on-the-arts-during-challenging-times.
- Art and Culture