Harrisonburg High School students work with international artist

Published: Sep. 23, 2022 at 6:08 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - This week, Harrisonburg High School students collaborated with international artist Roberto Marquez, or Robenz, on a special project.

Students gave Robenz ideas for the mural design, helped paint, and will eventually name the piece and interpret its story. He said the creative process started with the students’ ideas written on the canvas; then he was able to start grouping the ones that would fit together.

Robenz has traveled the world making powerful pieces that comment on the topics like the war in Ukraine, the Uvalde massacre, migration, and more.

“My purpose is to bring consciousness to what’s happening in that moment,” he said.

But, for the students, he said his focus shifted a bit.

“It’s real emotional,” he said. “This reminds me of when I was a kid, and I had the opportunity to go to school, but I didn’t take that opportunity. I hope they understand that they have something very powerful within their hearts. All those talents- hopefully, this will be a spark for them to go into. ”

Robenz and teachers said they could see the students building a deeper connection with art throughout the week.

“The last two days it has just really exploded,” Philip Yutzy, an HHS Spanish and Social Studies teacher, said. “They get involved. They ask questions. They’re painting on it and adding their own touches.”

The message behind the mural is not clear yet, but teachers agreed that the diversity of HHS is shown in the mural.

“It represents my students,” Ofelia Nicols, an HHS teacher, said. “They represent every little culture and country around the world.”

Additionally, Robenz said he saw a message about teachers in it.

“I have a teacher there surrounded by animals, meaning the challenges they have and the difficulties to teach,” he remarked.

Yutszy said getting Robenz to Harrisonburg has been a two-year-long process, but Marquez’s familial relations to Nicols helped moved the process along.

The mural is expected to be complete on Tuesday.