In the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers recognized 16 high school seniors from across the country with the program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship. Throughout the month of May, we are highlighting and interviewing two pairs of Gold Medal Portfolio recipients a week prior to their national ceremony in June. In this Q&A, each pair of recipients were asked a few questions about their nationally recognized portfolios, craft, and future plans. And, to make it more interesting, each Gold Medal Portfolio recipient has also asked each other a question to get to know their fellow medalist.
This week, we’re highlighting two more talented Gold Medal Portfolio recipients acknowledged for their works in both art and writing: Jasmine Mason from Richmond, VA and Ayush Noori from Exeter, NH.
Meet Gold Medal Portfolio recipient Jasmine Mason. Her nationally recognized art portfolio, “Waiting…,” is a series of acrylic cardboard paintings that investigates life and the act of waiting through the documentation of real situations in her community where her neighbors wait for everyday necessities.
When did you first know you were an artist?
The first time I realized that I was an artist was in 2018 during my junior year of high school. Previous to that, I had just been intrigued by art for three years, but in 2018 I fell in love with art.
What was the inspiration behind your portfolio?
The inspiration behind my portfolio is the urban and ethnic community around me.
What do you want someone to take away from looking at the pieces in your portfolio?
I want viewers of my work to reflect on the little luxuries that they have in their lives that many people, especially minorities, don't own.
What's next for you? Will you continue to create art in your future?
I plan on enrolling at Columbus College of Art and Design to major in Interior Design and minor in Fine Arts.
If you could have dinner with one notable/famous artist (living or dead) who would it be and what would you want to talk about with them?
If I could have dinner with one notable artist, it would be Edward Hopper. I recently saw his show, and I admired the scenes he created and the isolated feeling you get from the different subjects. Our conversation would probably consist of painting techniques and crafting exciting compositions.
Question from Gold Medal Portfolio recipient Ayush Noori: Some characters depicted in the background of your work remain unpainted and in raw pencil. What inspired you to make this artistic choice? To you, what do these figures represent?
Leaving the figures in the background in pencil has always been a signature in my paintings on cardboard. The first painting I did on cardboard technically wasn’t finished, but my peers and teachers said it felt finished and it just felt like me. For me the figures in the background are like background characters in a show, although, they’re not fleshed out they help create the scene.
Meet Gold Medal Portfolio recipient Ayush Noori. His nationally recognized writing portfolio, a series of personal essays and poems, is an ode to his grandmother.
When did you first know you were a writer?
Even at the fringe of my fading childhood memories, I’ve wrangled words. As a toddler, I started to read three months before I learned how to walk. This quirk soon blossomed into an abiding love of language. I would expend hours bundled under blankets or nestled in clandestine cupboards, devouring any book I could get my hands on. Soon thereafter, in elementary school, I began competing in spelling bees. By eighth grade, I represented my state as a finalist at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C, helping to enrich my vocabulary and foster my literary development. Hence, although my writing matured most over my high school years, I cannot pinpoint a specific juncture where some visceral epiphany inspired my passion for writing. Rather, my journey with language has been an organic evolution, and I am excited to see how my work will advance as I continue to develop as a writer and a creative thinker.
What was the inspiration behind your portfolio?
My portfolio is dedicated to the memory of my beloved late grandmother and is inspired by her formidable life and remarkable courage. I believe that the role of any writer must not only be to recite a series of interesting occurrences or narrate a transient happenstance. Rather, we are also charged with a certain responsibility to identify and share select stories which have the potential to engender positive impact and empower others to dismantle personal prisons and wage their own battles. My grandmother dedicated her life to surmounting adversity, demolishing barriers of gender, education, and eventually neurodegeneration as she fought for her right to secure success and happiness for herself and her children. The opportunities which I have been fortunate to receive are the direct byproducts of her legacy. Even though she has recently passed, by committing her story to the page, I hoped to preserve her voice – and the lessons which she imparted to me – in my words.
What do you want someone to take away from reading or looking at the pieces in your portfolio?
I hope that the reader of my portfolio will gain a glimpse of my grandmother’s personality and unwavering tenacity. The lessons which my Nani conveyed to me – both by example and as I researched her life narrative – have instilled in me the value of perseverance and galvanized my own academic interest in neurodegeneration. I now hunt in research labs for a cure to the disease that stole her life. I hope to share this opportunity with the reader – to be inspired by my Nani’s determination, and to apply this philosophy to their own life. In this way, we not only commemorate her feats and celebrate her life, but by perpetuating her legacy, contribute to her story as it continues to unfold.
What’s next for you? Will you continue to write in your future?
I will soon graduate high school and am excited to pursue my undergraduate studies in computational neuroscience at Harvard College. Writing is central to the expression of my identity, hence, my writing will continue. As I further my exploration of my grandmother’s life, I hope to compile these stories and share them with others in a unified narrative. In the coming years, I plan to plunge headfirst into other creative mediums as I develop my poetry, music, photography, and perhaps computer art. As I look to a potential career in the neurosciences, I am convinced that the skills to communicate effectively and analyze creatively will serve me well both as an artist and a scientist.
If you could have dinner with one notable/famous artist/writer (living or dead) who would it be and what would you want to talk about with them?
While this answer is likely capricious and bound to change upon my next visit to the library, I recently read “The Grand Inquisitor,” an excerpt from The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and was enthralled by the profound philosophical quandary of human free will posed. Hence, I would delight in a dinnertime discussion with Dostoevsky on the inevitability of social hierarchy as espoused in Ivan’s prose poem.
Question from Gold Medal Portfolio recipient Jasmine Mason: I noticed that the subject matter of your work explores neuroscience, do you have an interest in that field as a career choice? If so do you still plan to continue to write also?
Yes! I currently work at Massachusetts General Hospital as a neurodegeneration researcher and aspire to be a clinician-scientist. Hence, after college, I hope to continue researching innovative solutions to ameliorate the global burden of neurodegeneration, while also practicing clinical neurology to directly better the lives of patients and their families. I know that writing—both scientifically and creatively—will be critical to this mission. Effective communication with both my fellow scientists and the public is key in fostering scientific discourse on global health challenges and promoting collaboration to further our research. I also intend to continue sharing stories from my grandmother’s life, and I am eager to explore other creative writing projects in the future. Putting pen to paper is an act of vulnerability that allows us to forge distinctly human connections and process our evolving world—to me, this must be inherent to the expression of my identity.
Stay tuned for early next week when we get to know another pair of Gold Medal Portfolio recipients!
If you’re interested in learning more about past and present Gold Medal Portfolio winners visit the Eyes on the Prize series on the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog.
Cover photo: JASMINE MASON, Glass Half Empty, Painting; Photos in body: JASMINE MASON, Headshot, Photograph; JASMINE MASON, 2A North Ave/Midlothian/Belt Blvd, Painting; AYUSH NOORI, Headshot, Photograph.