Children Draw Themselves: Self-portraits from All Over the World In Times of Covid

As COVID-19 began its spread around the world, the International Youth Library (IYL) in Munich, Germany, invited children to portray themselves during this unusual time. The response was overwhelming. Over 800 self-portraits from 42 countries and every continent arrived at the IYL. Children aged 3 to 18 depict themselves grey and frightened or colorful and lively, sometimes with a face mask and sometimes without–mostly with big, alert eyes. A curated portion of these self-portraits make up the exhibit Children Draw Themselves: Self-Portraits from All Over the World In Times of Covid, now on display in Worlds of Words: Center of Global Literacies and Literatures (WOW) in the UArizona College of Education.

studio hung with children's self portraits during covid-19 quarantine and books on tables

The exhibit displayed in WOW, with portraits hanging on the wall and books on the tables.

“Educators and parents are noticing that the uncertainty this pandemic has brought into children’s lives has led to anxiety and disruptive behaviors, particularly in schools. This exhibition provides adults with insights into children’s experiences and gives children an opportunity to realize they are not alone in their feelings but instead are connected to children around the world,” says Kathy Short, director of WOW and professor of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies in the UArizona College of Education. “Providing time for children to reflect on their own experiences through the books and self-portraits in the exhibition as well as creating their own self-portraits encourages healing and a sense of hope and connection.”

watercolor self-portrait in muted browns of Diana wearing glasses

Self-portrait of Diana, age 18, from Armenia.

The pandemic has ignited an explosion in the publication of new books for young people about COVID-19, many of which the WOW Center shares alongside the exhibit. In addition, books about past pandemics that bring a historical perspective to the current pandemic are also on display. The art and books on display in Children Draw Themselves together provide an international perspective on how young people experienced the early onset of COVID-19—both the fears and resiliencies.

“These books invite children to identify and process their own emotions and their experiences within their families and communities,” says Short.

Mariane paints herself in vivid color with thick hair and a face mask covered with covid molecules

Self-portrait of Mariane, age 9, from Armenia.

The call for self-portraits as well as the idea to create an exhibition from the pictures sent in was inspired by Jella Lepman, the founder of the IYL, who already in 1952 collected more than 300 self-portraits of children from thirty countries and showed them in an exhibition. Most of the self-portraits in Children Draw Themselves are accompanied by a photograph of the artist.

This self portrait has four sections depicting community attempts to spray public areas, family life, activities no longer allowed, and wildlife. A covid molecule menaces all the scenes from the upper left corner.

Self-portrait of Udhara, age 13, from Sri Lanka.

The WOW Center is the first place to receive Children Draw Themselves outside of Germany. The exhibit includes original art from children all over the world, picturebooks and novels on pandemics and epidemics generally and COVID-19 specifically, and hands-on activities. It will be on display in WOW through May 13, 2022. The collection is free to visit and open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays-Fridays, depending on staffing. For more information or to schedule a field trip or guided tour, submit an online request or contact wow@arizona.edu

***

Children Draw Themselves was conceived by the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany. For more information on this exhibit, contact Maria Luise Weber at wanderausstellungen@ijb.de. More about this exhibition can be found at https://www.ijb.de/en/exhibitions/travelling-exhibitions/single/kinder-malen-sich-selbst-kinderselbstbildnisse-aus-aller-welt-in-zeiten-von-corona. Information on IYL can be accessed at https://www.ijb.de/en/about-us/the-international-youth-library.

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2 thoughts on “Children Draw Themselves: Self-portraits from All Over the World In Times of Covid

  1. Kathleen Rauth says:

    Is it possible to have these pictures shared digitally? I am a librarian in Indiana and I would love for my students to see more than the 3 images in this article!

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