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Sixth-Grade Artists Reach for Community in New Exhibit at MCS

Andres David Lopez
Frozen in time, a metallic-colored disembodied hand gives a thumbs up before it sinks in bright orange lava. 

The artist's statement for the sculpture explains that the robot is gesturing to his friends to let them know he made his sacrifice willingly. 

Manhattan Country School’s newest art exhibition, “Escape the Mold: MCS Hands Reach for Community” is now on view on the third floor for students and staff. It features 29 sixth-grade artists working with plaster wrap, acrylic paint, and found objects to create sculptures cast from their own hands. 

Themes explored include friendship, peace, community, consumerism, and sports. Attached to bases and displayed, each hand seems to hint at a larger supernatural being emerging from a portal on the wall it is mounted to or table it is sitting on.

Several sculptures interact with each other. Emory and Cooper started the trend when they decided their individual hands and bases could come together in a handshake. In his artist statement, Emory explained that the colors of fire and water in both sculptures represents the concept of opposites. 

“We are still similar even though we are different,” Emory wrote.

A serious graffiti artist who brings his own markers to art class and is careful not to reveal his nom de plume, Ben created the robot hand falling into lava. He acknowledged the sculpture may have been inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator 2,” though he hasn’t seen the film.  

Ben said he appreciated the opportunity to work with plaster wrap and to express his ideas. 

Qing, our art teacher, developed the project to fulfill her intention of having students gain experience with sculpture each year. Seeking to provide a very tactile learning experience, Qing also took advantage of the stock of plaster wrap in the MCS art room. 

Our artists studied the symbolism of hands before deciding on a gesture to cast. And they used color to add meaning or suggest a mood. 

Archer, for instance, kept his sculpture in black and white. Coincidentally, black and white is the format for most of the available footage of his subject, the Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin. A tribute to the man considered one of the greatest to ever play soccer, Archer’s hand features several black spiders, a reference to Yashin’s nickname.

Cesar’s sculpture is painted orange and blue, his hand open and holding a basketball. An athlete who is focused on being the best basketball player he can be, Cesar is also a musician who plays the violin and piano. The orange and blue in his sculpture expresses his love for his favorite team, the New York Knicks. 

“Honestly, I think they’re doing really good,” Cesar said, referring to the Knicks this season. “I feel like OG Anunoby is a really good piece for the Knicks. Jalen Brunson, he’s an amazing point guard, too.”

Stella, who has been at MCS since the 4-5s, focused meticulous effort to craft a Chanel bag overflowing with pearls as a prop attached to the base of her sculpture. Her hand is also clutching a string of pearls.

In contrast to hands from her peers that make political statements, such as a fist in Pan-African colors, Stella’s sculpture is more focused on consumerism. Does the work promote elitism with its use of a luxury brand? 

Stella admitted she doesn’t own anything from Chanel, but a love of shopping is a connection she shares with several of her friends in class.

“I wasn’t advocating for shopping,” she said. “I was just creating something that was for me. Something cool for my friends and I.”

Qing defended our students for choosing subjects that may not be considered deep enough. She cited the Dada movement as an example of artists creating seemingly nonsensical work. 

“Art is just exploring every facet of humanity, the human experience,” she said. “Art is for everybody … My goal is to help [students] get the benefits of art, looking at art, making art, thinking about art.”

Qing had also previously noted that “Escape the Mold: MCS Hands Reach for Community” is reminiscent of work by celebrated artist Louise Bourgeois, who used human hands as a recurring motif in her sculptures.

Louise addressed the subject of the artist’s responsibility in a quote attributed to her.

“Some artists say to make the work readable for the public is an artist’s responsibility,” Louise said. “But I don’t agree with that. The only responsibility is to be absolutely truthful to the self.” 
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