For Mimi Ton, the electric cooker in her grandmother's kitchen means home.

For Mimi's classmate Joseiry Lara, the music speaker in her house means home.  

Mimi, Joseiry and 16 other Advanced Placement art students at Lawrence High will unveil their ideas of home on Friday, Oct. 26, in the Beland Gallery at the Essex Art Center.

They'll join artist Joanna Tam at the opening of "Are you home?" an exhibit that explores the meaning of home.

They explored the concept by taking pictures and talking about what they shot, talks that were recorded and will be played as part of the exhibit. 

"Using the voices of young people as a starting point," Tam said, "this project asks the viewers to re-consider the notions of home and community that have become particularly urgent and relevant to many in Lawrence."

Home is a recurring theme in the work of Tam, 46, a Boston artist. She has had many homes.

She grew up in Hong Kong under British rule and came to the U.S. in 1990 to study computer science in Boston. She has worked or studied in Virginia, Pittsburgh and New York, among other locations. It was while working in New York that art became her focus. 

She has taught art in Massachusetts at Tufts University, the Massachusetts School of Art and Design, Wellesley College and Lesley University.

Essex Art Center Director Cathy McLaurin has known Tam since their days as graduate art students at Tufts University. About a year ago, McLaurin invited Tam to exhibit at Essex Art. Tam wanted to work with the community, with students.

McLaurin knows and trusts Tam's work, and let her shape and develop the exhibit.

"I know what she does, I know that in over two or three years she has been producing these show that involve other people and involve storytelling," said McLaurin, who put Tam in touch with Lawrence High art teacher John Travlos.

Travlos said this project fulfills one of the students' requirements in the yearlong AP art class. For this particular assignment, he took a back seat.

"I wanted them to work like artists, and collaborate with Joanna," he said.

The project has undergone change in the wake of the gas explosions that rocked Lawrence and the Andovers last month. Students were directly affected by the explosions, through school cancellations and evacuations and the death of Leonel Rondon, a high school junior at the Phoenix Charter Academy in Lawrence.

The art students focused on their unique interpretation of home, he said. The teacher has observed a lot of religious imagery emerge through their project.

Tam said Lawrence's huge immigrant community presents an interesting perspective on home.

"If you are an immigrant, you see home a little differently," she said.

Ultimately, Tam is eager for the young people's voices to be heard, voices that she believes will inspire other people to engage in conversation.

Mimi said she took the photograph of the cooking vessel because it reminds her of her grandmother. She and her brothers immigrated to the U.S. without their mother and they lived with their grandmother.

"This is related to home because to me, home is a place where I feel comfortable with the bond of my family," Mimi said. "However, I lived without my mom for almost five years. I felt that my grandma had a huge impact on us.

She used that big bowl to make food for us when my mom was not here and took care of us like no one else could."

FEATURED ARTISTS

The Lawrence High School student artists working with artist and instructor Joanna Tam on "Are you home?" are Domenica Alcivar, Milca Alicea, Phoenix Almonte, Daniella Cameron Santos, Esmirna De La Cruz, Edwin Estrella, Antony Gaitan, Nicholas Hidalgo, Ashley Javier, Vaellasha Lantigua, Joseiry Lara, Wrileidy Lopez, Lianna Mendez, Ariana Piña, Melvin Santiago, Mimi Ton, Keyla Vega and Victor Velez.

IF YOU GO

What: "Are you home?" art exhibit, collaboration between Joanna Tam and Lawrence High School Advanced Placement art class

When: Opening Friday, Oct. 26, with reception from 5 to 7 p.m.; runs through Dec. 14

Where: Essex Art Center, 56 Island St., Lawrence

How much: Free admission

More information: essexcenter.org

ABOUT CHECK THIS OUT

Check This Out is a weekly feature where we highlight places in our region to go for art, dance, history, music, poetry or other cultural entertainment. Got an idea for a Check This Out? Email Terry Date at tdate@northofboston.com.

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