Here are some excerpts from "An Art Class's Lesson in Politics."
When Adama Bah's schoolmates decided to make a public artwork project about her case last spring, she and another 16-year-old girl were being held by the federal government after it had identified them, without explanation, as potential suicide bombers.
"We didn't know if we would ever see her again," said Kimberly Lane, who was then an art teacher at the school, the Heritage School in East Harlem, where many viewed Adama's detention as unjust and incomprehensible. "This was a way for the students to use art to speak out at a time when a lot of people, including adults, were afraid to do anything."
The result towers over anything that most people would expect high school students to produce. At Columbia University's Teachers College, where the work is on display through Thursday, the director of art education, Prof. Judith M. Burton, says it reminds her of Rodin's "Burghers of Calais."
That comparison does not seem too outlandish when looking at the seven larger-than-life figures at the college's Macy Gallery, even though they are fashioned from papier mâché and wire covered with colored cloth. They stand and gesture in a dramatic ensemble, the smaller ones urgently calling for attention or trying to intervene, the larger ones looming silent, deaf and blind to the victim in their midst, who raises her arms to heaven in a plea for help.
Adama is at least two heads smaller than the seven-foot figure designed to look like her, but the similarity is unmistakable. She was released from detention in May without being charged with a crime, just in time to pose for the 12 student artists - and to witness their crisis when the project seemed too controversial for the law firm where they had expected to display it.
But nothing prepared Adama for the final result. "As soon as I walked in, I was, like, shocked," she said. "My mouth just dropped. It was beautiful."
The reasons she was held for six weeks in a Pennsylvania detention center remain a mystery, and she and her lawyer, Natasha Pierre, are still under a court order not to discuss the case. The other girl, Tashnuba Hayder, is now back in her native Bangladesh. Adama, who came to New York as a toddler from Guinea, is fighting to stay here regardless of what happens to her father, a former cabdriver who is in immigration jail facing deportation after losing political asylum, which he had won by falsely claiming to be from Mauritania.
These days, Adama acknowledges that her family is in difficult financial straits. The telephone has been shut off and her mother stays late at her trinket stand in Brooklyn, trying to earn enough to buy groceries for Adama and four younger children.
Tax exempt donations can be sent to help the families of Adama and Tashnuba at:
Emergency Families Fund / CAIR
c/o 9-11 relief program / Adem Carroll
166-26 89th Avenue
Jamaica, NY, 11432
Or you can contribute online at this link.