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Marshall High School art students debut art show inspired by war propaganda posters

Three students stand in front of war propaganda posters.
Nadya Kelly
High school students Tyanna Underwood (left), Londya Bourgeois (middle), and Tahji Johnson (right) currently have posters displayed in the student art exhibit at the War Memorial Center.

Last week, the Milwaukee County War Memorial debuted an art exhibit featuring the creations of students from Marshall High School.

The show is called The War I’m Fighting. Students created posters in the style of 1940s and 50s American war propaganda, with messages they are passionate about.

Tahji Johnson is a student at Marshall High School. Inspired by presidential campaigns, her poster is a portrait of a candidate named Dorkus Doofuson. The slogan on the bottom of the poster reads: Our Most Promising Candidate Yet.

A student smiles and gestures towards her poster that she created for a gallery.
Nadya Kelly
Tahji Johnson shows off her poster during the opening reception of the art show.

Johnson photoshopped googly eyes and a large top hat to portray the candidate in her poster as an "idiot." She will soon turn 18-years-old —just in time for the upcoming presidential election. Although she looks forward to voting for the first time, her poster reflects her doubts about who she should vote for.

"I am kind of excited to vote even though I don't think that the candidates are going to be that good," Johnson says. "I am still excited to vote. I'm excited to be a U.S. citizen."

Like Johnson, many of the students created posters commenting on issues that concern them, like human trafficking, domestic violence, public safety and mental health.

Londya Bourgeois’s poster is about teenage relationships. Her posters shows a picture of two people in a romantic relationship. The words on the poster read—to stay together you have to love each other.

Bourgeois says, "This is to show that for a relationship to work you have to make it work together, not just one person on one side."

A student gestures to a poster she made for an art show.
Nadya Kelly
Londya Bourgeois often create different artworks that all center on the theme of love and relationships.

War Memorial Center Education Director Sean Clark says the idea for the exhibit came about when he visited Marshall High School to share the memorial’s history. He talked to students about World War I and II propaganda posters.

"The propaganda from back in the day and propaganda back then, they wanted everybody in the country to get behind the war effort," Clark says. "It's interesting to see how young students, high schoolers, what they’re being inundated with and what they see as propaganda. When I see the posters, some of them are deep."

Clark’s visit inspired Marshall High School graphic design teacher Gretchen Brenegan to take the students on a field trip to the War Memorial Center, where they learned more about the propaganda posters that they would imitate. Brenegan helped the students identify key characteristics of propaganda, including bold fonts, capitalized letters, an illustrated image, and a persuasive message.

Brenegan then worked with students to turn their ideas into finished artwork.

"Seeing that they are able to think of an idea, take a picture, manipulate it in Photoshop and create something beautiful but also be inspired by history, it's just a super cool process," Brenegan says. "It's how the real design world works, so that's the more important thing they're getting an idea of."

A student points to a poster that he created for an art show.
Nadya Kelly
Julius Hiley's poster brings awareness to the dangers of playing football.

High school football player Julius Hiley’s poster idea came from his own experiences as an athlete. His poster shows an image of a student touching his head with both hands. Football players tackling each other can faintly be seen in the background. The words on his poster read—football concussions, is it worth the risk?

"Yeah, I've actually seen a lot of big hits on the field and it's really scary, especially if you're the DB or right receiver," Hiley says. "It's scary because you get hit really, really hard."

Hiley has been playing football since he was 6. Now, he is 17 and plans to play through college and hopefully, professionally. He says creating his poster helped him express both the dangers and joys of the sport .

"I love it," Hiley says. "I love it to death. I just can't get it out my mind. It's worth the risk because you can go to League doing this. It's really a fun sport, especially if you have a good coach."

The student art will be on display at the War Memorial Center through this Sunday, Jan. 28.

Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
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