Senior Kiana Peterson’s submission to the Congressional Art Award Ca 51st District, with Hon. Juan Varas. Peterson received first place in last year’s competition, with her work currently being displayed in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S Capitol Building.

Art while we’re apart

Students enter digital media contest amidst pandemic

March 25, 2021

The student artists, filmmakers and photographers of Bonita Vista High (BVH) have been kept on their toes throughout the pandemic; entering various multimedia competitions with the support of Photography and Advanced Placement (AP) 2D Art and Design teacher Edwin Lim. Students have brought several winning submissions to the competitions over the last year, with works representing BVH that are being recognized across the United States.   

“It’s truly a joyous thing. Never did I imagine this pandemic, yet [students are] still submitting things and getting recognized. That means my kids are awesome,” Lim said.  

Although works are still being submitted, the process of submission has been altered due to distance learning. Most of the time, competitions that require payment per entry are covered by Lim due to the complications involved with sending payments during quarantine. However, the main alteration to multimedia competitions is the transition from in person exhibitions to virtual ones. Winning pieces are now displayed virtually, and this is especially true for international competitions.     

“I know a lot of smaller competitions where they do local exhibitions, but for big international competitions, not everybody is going to be coming out of their state to see the works displayed with all the regulations,” senior Kara Barragan said. “But I also felt like traveling out of state to go see my work would’ve been a really important time for me and my family.”

Barragan submitted work to the Texas Photographic Society’s 2020 International Student Competition, where her photo was declared a finalist. Its exhibition would have occurred in Texas along with entries from contestants across the country. 

Similarly, the Congressional Art Award Ca. 51st District, with the Hon. Juan Varas, is an international competition that has its winners taken to Washington D.C. to see their artwork displayed in the Cannon Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol Building. Senior Kiana Peterson had her submission take first place in last year’s competition, however did not attend any exhibition due to its cancellation.  

Senior Angelica Castillo submitted her short film “Entropy” to the Sine Kwento: Filipino Stories in Film Art competition. Her film was declared a finalist in the competition. (Provided by Angelica Castillo)

“Without the pandemic, a lot of [art] works would have gotten to sit in exhibition halls representing BVH. In Peterson’s case, she would have [received] 2 free tickets for her and the person of her choice to go to Washington and see that great photo. What a missed opportunity,” Lim said, groaning in frustration. “Oh my god.”

Peterson’s submission was “most likely” displayed in the Cannon Tunnel, according to Lim. However no exhibition for the works occurred.  

“I was a little disappointed. I remember when Lim first mentioned that the winner’s art would get to be hanging there and the winner would get to go see it. I was like, ‘that would be so cool.’ But now, just knowing it’s hanging up there and not being able to see it–going would’ve been great,” Peterson said.  

Although the pandemic has put a stop to in-person exhibitions, the drastic changes to everyday life that the pandemic has caused are influencing artworks, photos and other multimedia created by students.  

“My sister works as a nurse, she’s a first responder. She always gives her son a kiss goodbye before she leaves, and one day I asked if she could step outside so I could capture that moment. Everyday that she leaves to go to work, she never knows if she’s gonna come back and bring [COVID-19] with her,” Peterson said. “I thought it could show that mothers and fathers who work as nurses are risking their lives and their family’s lives every time they step out that door.” 

Lim is a strong advocate for the ways students are expressing themselves amidst this pandemic through their works and believes those submissions, ones that “really mean something” to students, are amazing. 

“This pandemic has been the number one influence on a student’s mind. One thing that I teach this year is called zeitgeist. It means spirit of the times. One way art reflects society is when you hit the zeitgeist of the times. There’s so much anxiety about the pandemic, about safety, about death, even about getting the vaccine. So it’s all been massively reflected in their artwork,” Lim said.

Senior Kara Barragan submitted this photo to the Texas Photographic Society’s 2020 International Student Competition. She was declared a finalist in the
competition. (Provided by Kara Barragan)

Senior Angelica Castillo, a finalist in the Sine Kwento: Filipino Stories in Film Art competition, submitted her short film ‘Entropy’, which was centered around the coming of age of a high school senior, and their transition into the “adult world”. Castillo commented on how the pandemic influenced that story.     

 “A  lot of it [the short film] was impacted by the pandemic, I feel like I grew and realized a lot because of it. Since it was a coming of age film, I talked about being a senior and transitioning into ‘life,’” Castillo said. “I focused on how scary it was during the pandemic, doing all these things alone. The whole experience influenced it a lot.” 

Despite sacrifice and adaptations that multimedia competitions are being forced to make, such as the loss of in-person exhibitions, students continue to enter said competitions. Even though modern-day competitions will look different than those of years prior, students still find their motivation to continue entering submissions.

“I felt like I had something to offer. A lot of people before the pandemic had certain things they wanted to take photos of, but during the pandemic I realized that I had my sister right in front of me. I can show this is how my sister kisses her son every night not knowing if she might catch it [COVID-19] and bring it home,” Peterson said. “That’s the message I can send.”

Students voice their appreciation for Lim, who has pushed many of them to continue to submit their works in these sorts of contests. Lim acts as an advisor to many of the contestants, helping students to select which works to send in, and providing feedback to others. Even during the pandemic, Lim is “100 percent on their side.”  

“With every competition, even now with the pandemic, he’s [Lim] always like that. Always pushing us, and then when we win, he gets so excited. The way he does it, it’s actually pretty dramatic. We’ll come to class and he’ll play this grand music before he announces winners,” Barragan said. 

In the face of the pandemic altering the way multimedia competitions function, student artists, filmmakers and photographers continue to submit their works hoping to take the title of “finalist” back to campus as student representatives of the multimedia community at BVH. It may take time for competitions to revert back to normal, but Lim isn’t too worried about the time it’ll take, as he chooses to embrace student art regardless. 

“My personal philosophy this year is that I will struggle and refuse to let this pandemic win. I will try hard to get students to enter contests,’ because it’s really all about human spirit, right? In the midst of any pandemic or calamity we still need to persevere and struggle,” Lim said. “These students are doing a really good job of that. There’s struggle, there’s perseverance [and] they fight. That’s what art is about.”

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Writing can be a ridiculously painful thing to endure, but I think that giving it up would be even worse. After all, who doesn’t like a challenge? I’m...

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