3rd Place – Mixed Media
Title of Art Piece: The Background Voice
Category: Mixed Media – 2023
Student/Artist’s Name: Samantha Farren
School: Eagle River High School
Grade: 11th
Artist Statement: Claudette Colvin was someone who caught my eye and imagination right away. When Mr. Bera told us more about Colvin, I was really interested in learning about her. I have always been interested in the Civil Rights Movement, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the bus boycotts. When I was in elementary school, I had a fascination with learning about Rosa Parks. I loved her and thought she was amazing! So when I heard about Claudette Colvin, I was hooked! What I find inspirational about Claudette was how she stood up for herself against two white cops and a white bus driver. She tried to change the law when no one else would.

Claudette Colvin was born on September 5, 1939, in Birmingham, AL. When she was 4, she was smarter than most kids her age. She was promoted up a grade level, which made her older than her classmates. Once, she was standing in line at a store with her Mother. A little white boy cut in line in front of her along with a few older boys. They were laughing and pointing at her. The little boy wanted to see what the other boys were laughing at. Once he saw Claudette, he got curious and touched her hand against his. As soon as that happened, her Mother looked at the boy’s mom and then back at her daughter. She pulled her away from the boy and smacked her hand saying, “We don’t touch them!” Ever since then, she rarely ever touched a white person. When she was younger, Claudette’s Father left her Mom numerous times. Eventually, Claudette’s Mom said he could not come back. She never saw her Dad again. Claudette’s last name used to be Austin. She changed it because she ended up going to live with her Great Aunt and Uncle in Pine Level, Alabama.
One day after school, she took the bus home with some of her friends. She sat in one of the seats reserved for whites because there was no other seat available. A white man came onto the bus and told her to move, but she refused. He asked again, but she refused a second time. When the bus driver saw what was going on, he walked over and asked Claudette to move, but she refused a third time. She thought, “I could not move because history had me glued to this seat. It felt like Sojourner Truth’s hands were pushing me down on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman’s hands were pushing me down on the other shoulder.” The bus driver called the police and they were waiting at the next bus stop to take Claudette to jail. She told them, “It’s my constitutional right to sit here. I paid my fare and it’s my constitutional right!” Claudette was harassed by the cops as they took her to jail. They tried guessing her bra size, called her the” N word”, and were cracking jokes about her body. She was only in jail for a few hours until Reverend Johnson bailed Claudette out of prison. Everyone was worried about her, but they were also proud of her for standing up for what was right. She was also proud because she stood up for herself against a white bus driver and 2 cops. She never forgot about that moment and was always proud of what she did. This happened 9 months before Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat. Claudette’s story was never really heard because she never told people about it. I wanted to show how Claudette made an impact on the law when she was young. She had to adapt to a world that was unfair, especially for people of color. I showed the things she protested against and the things she learned about when she was in school.
My artwork expresses Claudette’s character and heroic acts in a number of ways. In the background, I created a whole collage of the segregation, Jim Crow laws, and bus boycotts that she went through when she was young. They show all of the marches, protests, and separation between African Americans and the rest of society. The aged paper has features circled in red to bring focus to the important things that happened in her life that tell her story. The composition is supposed to be a radial collage around the painted portrait of Claudette to express who she is and what her past was like when she was younger. The vision behind my creative inspiration was the brainstorming I did with the help of my teacher. We worked together to come up with the idea of putting a collage behind Claudette showing all of the things that capture her experiences…especially what she went through as a kid. I honestly thought it was the best idea ever and I’m really proud of how this work came out.
The process of creating this work changed my outlook on life. It made me realize that anyone can be a hero if they feel strongly about something and decide to act. It doesn’t have to be any specific person; it can be anyone. But stories like these have to be told. This piece really made me think about how life was back then and how awful it was for some people. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover even if they look different. Never judge someone based on how they look or what kind of skin color they have. Be nice to everyone that you meet. I will share this piece with my community by asking coffee shops and other businesses to hang my artwork up so everyone can see. I will also be displaying it at our school’s annual “Fine Arts Cabaret” for everyone to see.

Artwork Dimensions: 24″ x 24″

Original Image: