GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As they worked to honor Patrick Lyoya, who was killed at the hands of a Grand Rapids police officer, East Kentwood High School art teachers and students found themselves grappling with issues of race and injustice.
After the East Kentwood administration was offered the Youth Care and Voice mini-grant from the Steelcase Foundation, it approached the art department about using the money.
“The three of us teachers, Kimberly Meyers-Baas, Olivia Miller and myself, we brainstormed on what we should focus on and so we thought that a portrait of Patrick would be really meaningful,” art teacher Le Tran said.
The group approached Lyoya’s family about getting some photos of him as references for the painting. They then posterized it and projected it onto the canvas.
“We invited students from the AP classes because those are the kids that, by the end of April into May, they have already finished their course work for AP, would have time to do this project with us,” Tran said. “And some of the National Art Honors Society students as well because most of the work was done during the last hour of the day and spilling into after school.”
The students who worked alongside the teachers and community collaborators include Kimberly Luu, Remlla Ali, Gabbriella Burns, Nhi Duong, Adina Hodzic, Judith Kalinhira, Rachel Kisile, Naw Kuh, Scarlett Lee, Ram Lian, Alison Lim, Alyssa Rinck, Sherlyn Rosales, Htee Say and Ven Zing.
Creating the final painting once it was traced took about two weeks. Tran said the team want to demonstrate Lyoya’s personality, which stood out in each of the photos they were given.
“We brainstormed some more and thought, ‘Oh, we have to get some fabric from the African store on Eastern (Avenue),'” she said. “…We took one of the designs and replicated that onto the canvas. We didn’t want to leave it alone, we had to embellish it. So we put on a lot of gold paint and just heightened some of the colors and the intensity on that fabric to bring out that bright, colorful, flamboyant colors that Patrick loves to wear.”
When the portrait was finished, it was shown to the Lyoya family.
“His mother mentioned that the painting, the artwork really showed his spirit and she was in tears when she saw that,” Tran said. “She said, ‘It looks just like him.’ She felt like he was close by.”
Tran said working on the piece opened up a space for students and teachers to talk about their thoughts about Lyoya’s death in a therapeutic way.
“While we were working on this project, (there was) a lot of conversations about race, injustices and how this is such a tragedy,” she said.
Lyoya was shot and killed by a Grand Rapids police officer on April 4. That officer, Chris Schurr, has been charged with second-degree murder and fired from the police department.
Entering the piece, ultimately entitled “Through the Veil,” in ArtPrize wasn’t the initial plan, but Tran said it emerged as an idea while the team was creating it. After the massive art competition is complete, Tran said, the portrait will be gifted to Lyoya’s family.
“Through the Veil” can be viewed at Fountain Street Church through Oct. 2.