A Beaverton High School student is looking forward to her art being on display in the U.S. Capitol building.
Clara Johnson, 17, won the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for Oregon's First Congressional District for her piece titled "Xenophobia." The black-and-white drawing showcases random hands coming from outside of the frame to stretch out a woman's face horizontally.
Johnson says her goal was to make the piece "striking," so onlookers would have a tough time taking their eyes off of it.
"There's small details that you might not see when you first look at it," said Johnson. "And I really wanted people to talk about it."
She recalled spending 10 minutes to also decide a name for her piece. As an artist, she says the title of drawing is almost as important as the piece itself.
Johnson landed on the name "Xenophobia" after finishing the drawing for her AP art class at Beaverton High School. The assignment asked her to answer a question on how the coronavirus pandemic impacted the U.S. and the world throughout the last year.
"I saw a lot of the news, and I have friends who have experienced this increase in disdain and hate towards the Asian American community during COVID, and it was really upsetting," she recalled. "I thought that my only real platform would be to make a piece about that."
It took Johnson about a month to complete the piece, and she later submitted it to the art competition.
She remembers being on Zoom and waiting for the winner to be announced. She said she was shocked to hear her name on the other side of the screen.
"I kept telling myself, like, 'I'm not going to win, I'm not going to win,' so I wouldn't be disappointed at all. Then, I saw that I did and I kind of freaked out and jumped around a bit in my chair," she said with a chuckle.
This year's competition also had a panel of judges from northwest Oregon, including professional artists April Xu, Jo Reimer and Patrice Cameron.
They described Johnson's work as "a great mixture of contemporary and traditional techniques," according to a press release by the office of U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat.
Johnson received an honorable mention for the competition in 2019.
"I appreciate that Clara's piece thoughtfully examines anti-immigrant bias and the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, and is beautifully executed," said Bonamici in a statement. "She is incredibly talented, and I'm glad she has shared her excellent work by participating in the Congressional Art Competition."
Two other students were awarded honorable mentions: Diane Choi and River Rain, also both seniors at Beaverton High School.
Johnson's piece will be displayed in the U.S. Capitol building for the next year.
"That was the best part of it for me because my piece is a political statement and also a human rights statement," she said. "I like knowing that it will be in a building where people work that may not even consider xenophobia an issue that people go through. So, the fact that it would be there in a political setting for the entire United States, it made me feel as if the message was at the best place it could be."
Johnson added that it's also significant her piece will be displayed in the building after extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., earlier this year.
Johnson will continue her focus on art after high school. She will be majoring in art practice at Portland State University next year.
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