Kids' pandemic art drives ROM's first ever crowdsourced exhibition

After 2,300 submissions from children and teens across the province, the Royal Ontario Museum is launching its first crowdsourced exhibition, which centres on seeing the pandemic through the eyes of Ontario’s young people.

'#MyPandemicStory: Youth Create Portraits of a Pandemic' opens on Oct. 23

Mississauga artist Hannah Choi stands next to her piece 'Ambiguity,' which is part of the Royal Ontario Museum's new crowdsourced exhibition called '#MyPandemicStory: Youth Create Portraits of a Pandemic.' (Sam Nar/CBC)

After 2,300 submissions from children and teens across the province, the Royal Ontario Museum is launching its first crowdsourced exhibition, which centres on seeing the pandemic through the eyes of Ontario's young people.

It's called #MyPandemicStory: Youth Create Portraits of a Pandemic, and it's running for free starting on Oct. 23.

Justin Jennings, curator in the arts and culture department at the ROM, said the museum was "blown away" by the submissions, which run the gamut from visual art to spoken word, music and dance.

"It was really profound for us," he told CBC News.

"A lot of this art you see and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, this is amazing, I couldn't possibly do this,' and this person is 12 years old."

Some of the work is bittersweet, like Glass Half Full by a four-year-old from Toronto named Jackson, who describes the drawing as "lonely but at least we still have rainbows and flowers."

Glass Half Full was drawn by a four-year-old from Toronto named Jackson. (Royal Ontario Museum)

Other pieces are very technically proficient and introspective, like Ambiguity by 18-year-old Hannah Choi. It focuses on the concept of touch, which has become a central focus throughout the pandemic, from the literal feeling of touching another person to the connection between communities.

The painting was created using four different layers, but from the front, it melds into one singular image.

"From the birds-eye view, the artwork looks flat and singular, however, in reality, it is a work of disconnection," Choi said in her artist's description.

"For example, my friends feel so close to me even when we are so far apart; as if I could just reach out through my screen and touch them. By purposely distributing my hand across four layers, I am using deception to show an ambiguous disconnection."

Ava-Udeane created 'Introspection,' which she says is a portrait that 'symbolizes me in a state of calm in front of varying events and emotions from this pandemic.' (Ava-Udeane/Royal Ontario Museum)

Jennings said many submissions had to do with issues of identity, and people trying to understand just who they were as the world stood still. In many cases, kids were trying to work through their issues through art.

"Suddenly, when things stopped, you had a lot of time for introspection — and a lot of demons and anxieties were brought up," he said.

Salsabil Mazumder told CBC News they had a lot of time to themselves through the pandemic, which culminated in boy, which explores gender identity.

"During that [time of] self-reflection I really saw myself through the mirror as a boy wearing a woman's costume," Mazumder said. "This is basically how I felt and how I decided to express my gender identity."

Salsabil Mazumder is an 18-year-old Scarborough-based artist whose work also appears in the ROM's new exhibit, which runs until February. (Sam Nar/CBC)

And how does it feel to have art hanging in the ROM at 18 years old?

"It's extremely surreal," Mazumder said, adding that it's important for people to see themselves reflected in art.

"If there are other kids and teens coming to see this exhibition, they may be able to see a part of themselves within any of these art pieces, made by kids, for kids," they said.

The exhibit runs at the ROM from Oct. 23 to Feb. 22.

With files from Talia Ricci


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