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Making a face

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Surika Absar, 15, looks at her portrait during the Inside Out Project gallery exhibit at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester on Saturday. Inside Out was organized by Allison DiGiovanni, an art teacher at John Handley High School, and consists of portraits of Handley students accompanied by their own statement on diversity.

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Portraits of Handley students adorn the wall during the Inside Out Project gallery exhibit at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester on Saturday. Inside Out was organized by Allison DiGiovanni, a Handley art teacher, that made portraits of Handley students accompanied by their own statement on diversity. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Student art project explores personal identity through self-portraits

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- "Some are rich, some are poor but we all walk the same floor."

"Being diverse is what makes us beautiful."

"We are all the same people even though we don't look alike."

Twenty-three quotes accompany black-and-white photographs of John Handley High School students with varying facial expressions, from all smiles to tongues sticking out to serious looks, at the Shenandoah Arts Council on Loudoun Street. Six duplicates are on display downtown at the Virginia National Bank.Tracy Marlatt, executive director of the arts council said she's working with other merchants to get more of the prints downtown.

The idea came from Alli DiGiovanni, art teacher at the high school, after seeing the global art project started by JR, a French artist, meant to promote awareness and conversation about personal identity.

"I thought this is a great tie-in to what we do already," DiGiovanni said, noting that the project will not end here. On Feb. 22, high school students will spend half of their school day discussing stereotypes and racial slurs in preparation for a community-wide forum on March 25.

In addition, the Coalition of Racial Unity has started a diversity circles program at the high school, and students in that program are the onesfeatured in the artwork, which will be on display at the arts council until Feb. 29.

"The idea is really to post them in a public place, on a building, for people to just drive down a street and see a photo and then have them kind of wonder what it is and from there, spark some kind of discussion,"DiGiovanni said. "This is a conversation that's not being had in our community."

"Wouldn't it be great if one of these kids could have an honest and open discussion with their grandparents?" Marlatt asked.

Brandon Holder, 17, a senior at John Handley High School, stood by his photo and quote at the front of the building at the project's opening on Saturday. He believes any community could use more of a discussion about diversity.

"I hope that it opens some eyes to diversity in our community," he said. "I like the project. I think it was really neat -- I think it was kind of an eye-opener -- I think everybody in a way needs it just to I guess open up their minds and show them a different side of life."

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