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Students' art depicts historic event
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Bobbie McDonald, a student in Brooke Reynas sculpting class at Bradwell Institute, created this Batik painting called Unbroken for the Dorchester Academy Museum. - photo by Photo by Katelyn Umholtz

From now until September, the community can view artwork by several Bradwell Institute students at the Historic Dorchester Academy Museum that focuses on an important event in African-American history.
The students’ artwork, called batiks, tells the story of the Amistad event and shows figures chained behind bars. This refers to sold Africans from Sierra Leone who were aboard a ship — the Amistad — going from Cuba to the United States.
According to, a batik is a fabric printed by an Indonesian method of hand-printing textiles. Parts of the artwork not to be dyed are coated with wax.
The Amistad event started in 1839 as a revolt by the Africans, who wanted to go back to Sierra Leone and took over the ship.
However, they ended up first in New York, and then Connecticut, where they were jailed.
New York abolitionists formed a group called the Amistad Committee to raise money for legal counsel for the Africans’ impending trial and to help them safely return home.
Future President John Quincy Adams, who was the trial lawyer at the time, proved that President Martin Van Buren’s administration was falsifying documents in the case, and the 35 surviving Africans were able to go home to Africa.
Museum director Debra Robinson asked Brooke Reyna, a sculpting teacher at Bradwell, to have her students make art that depicts the event.
“When we first opened up a few years ago, I went to the schools to introduce Dorchester. I went to Brooke Reyna, showed her a video of the Amistad Event, and she became interested and provided ceramics,” Robinson said. “Every other year, she has brought art to Dorchester. This year, she called me and said she had some paintings for Dorchester. She is always doing something for the museum.”
There are 18 batiks displayed, each created by a different Bradwell student. Each work has a label listing the materials used in order to create a batik-process work of art, which uses fabric, dye and wax.
Since the exhibit’s opening last month, Robinson estimated that 80 to 90 people have visited the museum to see the work. The display has brought in quite a few young people, a group the museum does not normally receive much visitation from.
“I had a group of 40 people here Saturday, which included quite a few young people. They went out and brought more young people to the museum. I was surprised,” Robinson said. “Students like to see what other students are doing.”
Many people are not aware of the Amistad Event because it is not something thoroughly taught in a school’s history textbook. Robinson thinks that viewing these works of art can provide more knowledge of African-American history.
“A lot of people in this community don’t know what the Amistad is,” Robinson said. “It isn’t a racial thing, but rather, it shows justice being done in our history. It’s about a group of people who did justice for these slaves, and that’s important for people to know.”

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