Onion/Union

In a world dominated by adults, how do teenagers shape their identities? How do they present themselves and place themselves in relation to their fellow classmates? How can space be made for the expression of differences?

In order to be able to treat each other in an equal manner, we need to see how we differ from each other and to acknowledge how others experience the world. The high school classroom is a place where consciousness about social behaviour is formed. Teenagers are in their prime to shape their identities. How do teenagers express and present themselves in this turbulent period of their lives?

These questions inspired artist Merel Zwarts to set up the Onion/Union workshop in collaboration with MOED and with the participation of a class of first year students (teenagers of the age of 12/13) at Lek en Linge in Culemborg. 

The workshop was dedicated to exploring similarities and differences regarding bodies and identities. Inspired by the method of ‘Over de Streep’ and the educational theories of playwright, director and theatre scholar  Augusto Boal, and by the metaphor of the onion, the students gradually (re)constructed three different layers they found in themselves: from a personal and individual level (their bodies and identities); to a social level (comparing their bodies and identities); to an institutional level (how these underpinnings relate to the structure of the classroom/school).

The students were invited to explore, express and transform the complexity and layers of identities into self-portraits, individually or in duos. During the workshops, all the different layers became visible, like an onion. The students made drawings about their feelings and identities, similarities and differences, gradually adding layers to their drawn self-portraits. Eventually, to add another layer, the students posed for a photograph with their pieces of fabric. The colourful portraits present important issues regarding their identities, with their bodies as pedestals. Together they form a union of onions. [https://moed.online/exhibition/onion-union/]

We would like to thank the students of Lek en Linge for their participation in the project!