Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Eyes on the Prize: Gillian Dickinson and Ariana Smith

Loribelle Lapaix  //  May 15, 2019

Eyes on the Prize: Gillian Dickinson and Ariana Smith

The 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards recognized 16 high school seniors who received the program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to identify students with exceptional artistic and literary talent and present their remarkable work to the world through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, highlights two Gold Medal Portfolio recipients weekly. This week, they are celebrating the work of Gillian Dickinson (West Palm Beach, FL) and Ariana Smith (Las Vegas, NV).

Gillian Dickinson

“My work tends to reflect my views about religion and social forces. I draw inspiration from art history, specifically religious Byzantine art, as well as my own views on religion . . . The overwhelming presence of Christian ideals pushes me to make art that references my queer identity, which I do through self-portraiture. My portfolio juxtaposes rats with early Byzantine religious symbolism to parody religious imagery in a playful and ironic way. Rats are typically associated with infestations, plagues, and general threats to public safety. Halos, Gothic arches, and metal leaf are meant to elevate rats to the status of figures typically admired and revered throughout history.”

Ariana Smith

“My poetry reflects my experiences as a black queer woman moving through the world and through spaces where I’m not always accepted. I love every part of my identity and it is only natural in my being to question the institutions that are built to suppress the voices of people who are like me. To me, poetry is a way is a form of activism. Since language was taken from my ancestors, I see poetry and storytelling as a form of resilience. Writing helps me reclaim that right to express myself and make my voice be heard.”

Sisterhood by Ariana Smith (Poetry)

When your sister is your hairdresser, you need no mirror. – African Proverb

What are we?
    An omen, a sacrifice.

Crumbling soil and the salt
Of the sea remind her of
Igbo Landing.
The sun, her star,
A golden light onto brown body,
Carnelian stone.
Women with skin the shade
Of vintage stepping stones,
Skin like fire,
Her touch singes—
Her Flesh, an armor.
The muscle of ancestors,
Lineage like silk in her blood.
Planted seed by seed from
Our grandmothers, grown from spells
Before forced Christianity.
Brown girl, brownstone,
Sisterhood is: sitting on the stoop watching
The little ones play double dutch,
Beads hanging down past their
Ears like raindrops.
Hands of master artistry
Braid wool into tight rows
Of Underground Railroad
escape routes.
Sleek curls that stick
To scalp like chewing gum,
Poppin’ bubbles like
Our men.
Curls like shackles,
Twisting and shaping,
Shifting and welding.
Between us
Lies the world.
My sisters.
We so fly,
but we never leave the ground.


To see more Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, past and present, visit the Eyes on the Prize series on the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog.

Cover image: GILLIAN DICKINSON, The Angel, Printmaking & Altar Piece, Sculpture. Image in body: GILLIAN DICKINSON, Altar Piece, Sculpture.