MNL Voices: Detroit high-schooler describes the emotions he used to make his award-winning artwork

Self-control is a very interesting concept. It's something I've thought a lot about.

Like most, my childhood and adolescence has shaped who I am today. Ranking at the top of the list for most impactful experiences and personalities would be school and siblings—nine schools, two sisters, and three brothers, to be exact. From them I learned the idea of self-restraint.

In the second semester of my junior year in high school (and first year at Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies), I was in a meeting for the National Art Honor Society. Our instructor, Mrs. Magyarosi-Laytner, gave me and the other members of NAHS an assignment: we were all prompted to create a five-piece portfolio that would be continued the next year, making it eight total, organized around a consistent theme. 

It was a task I was excited and ready to take on. But I apparently wasn't up for it creatively because, for the first time in a long time, I had no clue as to what I would create. So I decided to "sleep on it," which kind of took a literal turn.

I can't recall exactly when it was, but a few days after being given this prompt, I was rudely awoken from my peaceful sleep. As said previously, I have many siblings and because of this, I have to face aggravation often. This was one of those times. 

Now, usually I would consider myself to be a morning person, but that morning was dreadful. My younger siblings decided that it would be fun to mess with me by telling me to get up even though there was no school that day, making an abnormal amount of noise, and continuously coming into my room so I could settle the many fights they had with each other. I remember being infuriated then, which is silly looking back, but that anger is what sparked the idea for the theme of my portfolio. 
The final panel in Bessiake's work, "For the Greater Good ... 00:01"
Lying angrily in bed, I made a conscious decision to not look angry. Which was odd. It made me realize how often I subconsciously curated and filtered all of my emotions, actions, and even thoughts. They all went through my system of "self control." These moments of reflection further led me to realize that we all have systems of control, and also that some systems work better than others, which is very evident if you've ever been to an institution of education. But in that same thought, I wondered: "Is having strong self control even actually a good thing?"

My portfolio is definitely not an answer to this question, but it is depiction of what self-control looks like. Self-control is not a decision of whether or not to explode, but rather a decision of where to explode, inwardly or outwardly.

For my portfolio I decided to depict this process through the dynamic between "calm" and "anger," personified by figures resembling myself. Throughout this narrative, "anger" represents the imminent explosion of whatever feeling one may subconsciously conceal, whether it be sadness, happiness, fear, etc. "Calm" represents our mental form of homeostasis, our system of self-control that decides where to explode. 

The main conflict of this story is the fact that "anger" has a bomb in its chest, and this whole series is a depiction of the "stages" of self-control counting down from 00:08, in reference to the time on the bomb. 

To elaborate more on my award-winning piece, "For the Greater Good … 00:01," which is also the last of the series, I wanted to portray an unsettling feeling, like when we try to control our true selves. I also wanted to show how even when we "detonate" on the inside, we are only harboring it temporarily. So, I depict how I personally and consciously release the remnants of my feelings through my art. 

Self-control, I learned, is a battle between the subconscious and conscious self. 

Habacuc Samuel Bessiake is a 2017 graduate of Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies in Detroit. He received a National Gold Medal in the 2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for his self-portrait drawing, "For the Greater Good…00:01."

Bessiake is the first student from the tuition-free Detroit art & design middle/high school to receive this honor. Less than 1 percent of works submitted to the program were recognized at the national level. Bessiake received a scholarship and will attend the College for Creative Studies in the fall.

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the 
W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.
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