By Jackie Nelson
HESSTON – Class of 2021 graduate Isiah Edison was honored by Congressman Ron Estes as one of the winners of the Congressional Art Competition on April 17. Edison’s work was displayed in the Wichita Mark Arts Gallery for the event.
Each year, the U.S. House of Representatives hosts An Artistic Discovery: Congressional Art Competition for High School Students, which takes place in each congressional district.
Rep. Estes also hosted an art exhibit in the district to display and celebrated the talent of all of the participants. The exhibit and reception also featured the 2020 winners, who were unable to have a reception at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. This year, the 4th Congressional District had 177 entries from 130 students representing 23 high schools in eight counties. Edison’s work earned an Honorable Mention.
Edison’s piece, “Earth’s Complexion,” is a self-portrait that has been an award-winning piece of art.
Edison said the piece “is mostly about my hair. After growing out my curly afro, people compared me to tons of natural objects. I heard things like mushroom, tree, bush, bird nest and many more. Luckily, I found them more humorous than offensive. I wanted to create a picture that made those natural objects a reality.”
The piece is also one of Edison’s first self-portraits and pencil drawings.
“I really struggled with the skin tone. I quickly learned to trust the process and keep going,” he said.
When he learned his piece was selected for recognition by Rep. Estes, “I was surprised they would pick something out with that meaning. I thought it would all be very patriotic.”
With his work on display at Mark Arts, Edison said it was difficult as a fairly private artist, “I like to keep my artwork to myself. I didn’t even show my mom. It’s kind of strange that anyone could see it and people could look at it and interpret it.”
Edison said the piece centered on self-acceptance.
“I’ve gone through a lot of different topics with art pieces. This was about self-love. I preach that. I’m always talking about it with my friends,” he said.
In choosing elements from colors to composition, Edison wanted his work to emanate assurance.
“I could be slouched, but there’s a lot of difference when someone is standing, there’s the sky and it’s that confidence I wanted to show. My confidence has grown a lot. I want people to see I’m more outgoing. I can talk to strangers. I grew to love myself and my hair and who I am. It was a long journey,” he said.
As a Black man, Edison was purposeful about focusing on his hair, which he keeps long and natural.
“I have strong opinions about my hair and how it represents me; and other people’s hair and how we express ourselves. I want my artwork to feel like it’s my expression of myself,” he said.
Edison, who moved to the Hesston community from Augusta, Ga., as a sophomore, began growing out his hair.
“It was a weird thing I was going through. I wanted to cover my eyes and back away. You look, there’s not a lot of people that look like me. My hair grew to be a staple to me. It’s part of my identity, now. It’s just hair, it’s nothing crazy,” he said.
Edison added that he has heard remarks that his hair is “crazy or messy, or they’ll say it’s unprofessional.”
Coming from a more diverse community, Edison said it was hard to adjust to stares. His Earth’s Complexion piece represents a self-assurance within himself.
“When you’re OK with how you look inside, it doesn’t matter,” he said. Edison added that he has embraced being “the dude with the crazy hair.”
However, as a young adult making his way into the workforce, “When I first got a job here, they were trying to make me cut my hair. I can’t have long hair or hair like mine has to be back. My hair is not unprofessional. It’s a part of me. It wouldn’t grow that way if it wasn’t supposed to.
“I hope people do talk about how we should appreciate Black hair, even though it is different and unique,” he said.
Edison plans to continue his artistic career, but plans to move forward with becoming an Aesthetic nurse.
“They do work with Botox, fillers, cosmetic injections – it’s kind of art-related. I’m a little scared to jump into the art world with so many talented creators, but I’ll still make art for sure,” he said.