Great Rapids — “I am literally drawing in my sketchbook at the moment. Can I show you?” Kahari King, a sophomore at Ottawa Hills High School, asked over a video call. The artist turned her book to face the camera and displayed a detailed drawing of a bird on a flower.
According to the drawing, Kahari doesn’t always think she’s ready to show others.
“We all have sketchbooks full of drawings that we don’t show anyone,” said Kahari’s art teacher, Tiffany Oliver. “In class, we focus on building students’ confidence in different artistic mediums to show their work.”
Oliver helped inspire Kahari’s confidence on a class project and now people across Michigan will have the chance to see Kahari’s art in more than 50 McDonald’s restaurants. The artwork will be installed in the coming weeks in locations ranging from Grand Rapids and Wyoming to Flint, Saginaw and Detroit.
Kahari’s work entitled “Freedom” exists within the framework of a wider project entitled “a celebration of culture and community”, involving high school students from Grand Rapids, Detroit, Flint and Saginaw creating murals that reflect best the culture of their city.
“My class received this initiative as a project and we embarked on learning how to create and demonstrate a community and visuals that represent Grand Rapids,” Oliver said.
Kahari and her class also learned from Michigan artist Desiree Kelly, whose murals can be seen in Eastern Market and in the permanent collection of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
Kelly joined each participating school’s art class via Zoom to offer lessons in wall art.
“Murals are an important way to tell the story of a community,” Kelly said. “We can only hope that this conversation through art in our neighborhoods will continue to inspire more young artists to come forward.”
Art with a message
Kahari said he wanted to incorporate people of color into his piece and primarily used digital art software to create it.
“(Freedom) is important because most people don’t like people of my color, so I had to say I’m an African American and I have my freedom. I want people of color know they have freedom too,” he said.
As a developing artist, Kahari learns to communicate her thoughts and ideas through art. Oliver explained that Kahari wasn’t sure if he wanted to submit his work and felt “nervous and excited” for people to see his work in public.
“Most of my art is (conveying) a message,” he said. “When I draw, it’s for me, but most (have) messages that people receive or not.”
Originally in music, but when he tried his hand at art, Kahari said he recognized he had talent.
“I only started making art a few years ago, but the art has always been there and now I’m learning how to use it,” he said. “I create art every day, mostly using pen and paper.”
He added: “It’s a bit difficult to do portraits of people, so I did portraits of animals. They come to me more easily.
Advice to other artists: “Don’t hide. Just be yourself (through) any art form.
– King Kahari
Oliver noted that his students experimented with many different artistic mediums this school year. “Kahari has expanded much of her pen and paper into other mediums like painting and digital art and has grown a lot this year,” she said.
Along with having his artwork in his hometown restaurant at 415 28th St SE in Grand Rapids, Kahari received a $1,500 scholarship from McDonald’s Michigan.
“They were really proud of me,” Kahari said of his family and friends seeing his artwork at McDonalds.
“I showed his artwork in my classes and a lot of students were really impressed and thought it was really cool,” Oliver said. Ottawa Hills High School’s arts program also received $1,000.
Empowering, shaping the future
Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby spoke at the unveiling of the 28th St. McDonald’s.
“As Superintendent, my priority is to create a sense of belonging and to empower our scholars to participate in shaping their future, their classmates and their community,” she said. . “I commend McDonald’s for creating this unique opportunity for our scholars to use their creative talent to celebrate culture and community through art.”
Although he hasn’t decided on any specific plans for his scholarship funds, Kahari plans to invest it in art supplies or an iPad with a pen for drawing.
Oliver hopes to use Ottawa Hills funds to improve the art program.
“With a lot of material that we explore, I want to enhance what they learn and incorporate more material that I think these students will be interested in,” she said.
At the end of the video call, Kahari offered her advice to other budding artists. “Don’t hide,” he said. “Just be yourself (through) any art form.”