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MHSA students engage in healing and activism through body art

Art form leads to discoveryArt can be transformative, thought-provoking, and temporary. This was the lesson learned by more than 40 students at Milwaukee High School of the Arts in October while spending time with Cameroonian artist and activist Issa Nyaphaga. Nyaphaga shared his personal story with students and led them through body painting that changed the way they think about art.

In Cameroon, Nyaphaga drew persecution for his political cartoons, but has used art to heal himself and others. “I have trained child soldiers how to love art,” he shared. “I led street children how to see and live differently, and I have accompanied people with disabilities to create resourceful art projects like any individual.” He also revealed that expressing emotion, which can be channeled by taking part in art, is the first step toward healing and can lead to a greater purpose.

Students found the experience to be mind-opening. Reflecting on their experience with Nyaphaga, they shared how the process made them think and feel.

  • There is more to the world than what we see.”
  • “What life could be if I would live to the fullest & do what I dream to do.”
  • “To be happy with who I am. Embrace myself more.”
  • “Everything may be difficult but not impossible.”
  • “Art can make you happy. Art is a very good thing.”
  • “About other cultures.”
  • “That painting heals sadness.”
  • “Art is another way to show feeling.”
  •  “That I don't have to be stuck in one place.”

Nyaphaga’s visit was made possible through a partnership with the UWM Institute of World Affairs. The experience aligns with new state and district social studies standards that encourage students to take informed action on what they are learning. Issa's visit helped reinforce the idea that individuals can use what they love, such as art, as a vehicle for taking action for social justice and human rights.


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Milwaukee Public Schools is committed to accelerating student achievement, building positive relationships between youth and adults and cultivating leadership at all levels. The district’s commitment to improvement continues to show results:

  • Ninety percent of 2019-20 budget dollars go directly to classrooms;
  • The MPS Class of 2018 earned $86.2 million in scholarships; and
  • MPS is home to five of the state and nation's top high schools according to U.S. News and World Report.

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