Rowben Laqui depicted the Mona Lisa with her famous smile ripped out and bloodied, the bottom burned away and caution tape surrounding the portrait.
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece is, "the epitome of art, and the meaning of art, for me, is expressing someone's emotions," says Laqui. By silencing the iconic work, and making it a danger zone, he points to the danger of suppressing, or censoring, emotion in ourselves and others.
"That can well up inside of you and maybe even make you not feel...if that makes sense. It will make you emotionally numb. It's a painful reality," said the Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute (DMCI) Grade 10 student.
Exploring such realities was what teacher Mauricio Barra hoped to see happen as part of a visual art assignment and discussions around censorship after his students read John Steinbeck's 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. The book has been banned countless times from schools for various reasons, including profanity, racial slurs and violence.
"That spawned several conversations about, 'oh, who gets to decide what's appropriate and not appropriate?" said Barra, who has taught at DMCI for 11 years.
The students' art, twenty examples of which Barra posted on Twitter (@coach_barra), sparked class conversation around transphobia, homophobia, racism and power structures that control young people's lives—and can leave them feeling like they have no control. Many of the artworks show eyes covered, mouths covered, people silenced.
"This idea that somehow, even though they have something to say, that someone, whoever that is, that force, is not allowing them to do it," said Barra.
He says it was clear the students came to the table already understanding what it was to be "on the marginalized side of power," and the visual medium helped them explore that.
Rashmigaa Suresh explored how mismanaged power, even if well-intentioned, can quell curiosity. Her art includes a blocked keyhole in a the door labelled curiosity through which a lush, idyllic scene is barely visible.
"The child holds the key to unlock the door," she says, and when children are denied information by adults scared to expose them to it, their view of the world is diminished.
"I think parents don't trust children enough because, in their eyes, children are always children...but in truth, when parents open up and tell us (information) it actually helps the bond and makes the child more open to the parent and helps their lives too."
Suresh says Steinbeck's novel puts a focus on discrimination based on race, gender, age and ability—discrimination which kills curiosity between people and censors their spirit.
"(It's) diminishing belief in themselves and their curiosity," she says.
Laqui says creating space for people to feel safe, and be accepted, is something we can all take ownership of by being mindful of our words and actions to ensure we don't hurt others. It's how we can help unshackle those who may feel isolated and lonely, he says.
"Let's just extend our grace to others."
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf