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Meet Oscar Aguilar: Artist and poet

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

“In photography class I learned about biology. In my graffiti class I learned about the history of hip-hop. In darkroom photography I learned about chemicals. You learn about so many things. Art is not one thing. It’s a bunch of stuff, and no limits. It spreads in every direction, no right, no wrong.”

Oscar Aguilar (15) joined Marwen in 2013 when he was only a sixth grader at LaSalle Elementary Language Academy. Now entering his junior year at Ogden International School of Chicago, Oscar continues coming to Marwen after school to amplify his newly found passion: storytelling.

From photography and film courses to poetry, Oscar said he was surprised to learn that art was far from just visual.

“What really stuck out to me was the [time] that Marwen [offered] a literature workshop. I have really been fascinated with poetry, and for so many years, I had been doing visual art,” Oscar said. “I could work on my skills in literacy, and that stuck out to me the most. The teacher was, like, a wise man. I loved all the quotes he said. We analyzed music videos and words.”

Oscar’s experience was through a special multimedia course offered to select high school students called “Poetry in Art,” led by FCB Chicagos John Claxton. In collaboration with Clark Street Bridge, Marwen students engaged with music, films, photography, and poetry to learn how words inform their art. Students audio recorded and performed their favorite writings during the workshop.

But Oscar said his favorite medium is people.

“I am really inspired by people in general. There are so many different people. There’s so much information that you can get from what people say, how they say it, what they look like, the looks they give,” Oscar said. “You can get a lot of inspiration from past experiences that you’ve learned from others. I really like learning about people’s stories. I’m really intrigued.”

It’s people and their experiences that inspire Oscar to make art.

“Especially in my writing, I really like the idea of when it hits you at the end, like, ‘oh,’ I just love that feeling. Like in a song where the pieces come together, or in writing where it’s not obvious at first or you’re led to believe something, and it intentionally leads the audience to believe that something is going on. But that ending where it just gets you like ‘oh, that’s what happened’... I just love that feeling and the ability to make people think that,” Oscar said.

One of Oscar’s favorite photography courses was “Darkroom Photography” with teaching artist and Marwen staff Lisa Lindvay, where he created and photographed sculptural still lifes, and turned them into silver gelatin prints in Marwen’s darkroom.

Oscar said he found inspiration in many people at Marwen.

“Marwen has been so diverse and especially in the time we are in now where kids who aren’t exposed to something different are scared of it, that’s really important for kids to encounter the weirder kids, the more confident kids, the whole spectrum. That’s really important because then you really know who you are,” Oscar said. “Kids see these diverse examples. They could take a little bit of everything, they could take nothing from it, but as long as they’ve seen it, that’s a thing in this world that exposes them to more.”

Marwen students are from all over city, which is something Oscar noticed throughout his studies at Marwen.

“When I was in the courses, lots of kids in the city experience[d] hard times. Maybe they [had] lots of anger in them or in something that happened to them, and lots of times they [didn’t] know how to express it,” Oscar said. “The ability to know that if there’s not a person that you can physically vent to, you always have an outlet available [art] that you can do anywhere, because you know how to do it. You’ve enhanced that skill in order to do it and really put forth your energy into something that is positive.”

Oscar’s outlet was poetry. His Marwen courses inspired him to make a poetry audio piece for his application to Ogden’s International Baccalaureate program, an academically rigorous and competitive program for high school students.

“I’ve been drawn to poetry as well as I was educated on it by the past Marwen experience [to create] a poetry piece. Also, I incorporated my own personal music into it,” Oscar said. “So, I took the layout of what Marwen gave to me — the learning from photoshop and stuff (they have similar layouts to music stuff) — I took all these aspects that I’ve learned through Marwen and turned it into a project that I needed to do in school.”

Oscar said his poem, Someone, is about various societal issues that affect many people, but that aren’t always talked about.

“I wanted to make the reader understand that our problems aren't the only ones that exist and at times, although it's feeling like it, they aren't the biggest problem in the world,” Oscar said. “Someone was used to be a variable for literally anybody. This meant that at any time we could become those people with those problems, but also become those people with the solutions to spark a change.”

"Somewhere in time someone’s gonna make a change. Somewhere, Someone’s gonna make a name. Somewhere, Someone’s gonna take their place. Somewhere, Someone’s gonna set the bar high. Somewhere could be right now. And Someone could be you and I"

Oscar said he also admires the space Marwen gives its students.

“I really think it’s important to establish something of your own. Something where you can say ‘this is what I did. This is what I spent nine weeks on.’ Sometimes you don’t get to experience that in school. You’re told to do this, and you’re expected to do it, and nobody really congratulates you for doing it because you’re expected to,” Oscar said. “But with Marwen, I have never been to any other place that expects the unexpected. It doesn’t know what you want to do, and it doesn’t expect that from you.”

Oscar has also been known to invite his friends at his high school to join Marwen.

“I say ‘you like art, why are you not doing this already?” Because a lot of my friends don’t do anything after school. I’m like, what’s wrong with you? [Marwen’s] right by our school, right on Chicago, we can take the 66 bus,” Oscar said. “I tell them it’s free and that there are so many different media [options].”

As for new students at Marwen, Oscar advised to just “go for it.”

“Honestly, I’ve never any time at Marwen been judged for not being good enough or displaying less skill than the other students. I’ve never felt like I’m not good enough, or been discouraged by another person,” Oscar said. “You should go for it, don’t think about it too much and just focus on what you do. Interact with other kids, see what they’re doing, and with that confidence that you’ll gain, you can do anything and not be judged by your peers, that’s when you’ll gain the confidence to also talk to them and exchange ideas. So, go ahead and don’t pull back.”

Oscar Aguilar photographs a fellow student during Marwen's Fall 2018 photography course.

Oscar continues practicing his love for photography this fall during Marwen's photography course "Chicago Reimagined: Darkroom Explorations," taught by Teaching Artist Katie Rodrigues.

Interested in helping create more opportunities for young artists like Oscar? When you contribute to Marwen, you provide support to Chicago's creative youth through free visual arts courses and college and career development programs. Give a gift.

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