Merav Eres


Hands & Feet

Merav Eres graduated in the Class of 2015 of Sayre School. She worked as an intern for UnderMain producing a series of posts pertaining to arts in the schools. In this last piece of her series, Merav profiles and interviews two high school artists, one a visual artist exploring a traditional art form of her culture, the other a performing artist in dance planning to take her art to the next level. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall.

Hina Iqbal is a seventeen-year-old 2015 Sayre School graduate. Hina plans to attend UK with a Singletary Scholarship in the BS/MD program. She will be majoring in biology and minoring in neuroscience in order to continue on to medical school. Hina’s parents are both from Pakistan and, as a result, she became interested in mendhi. Mendhi is the Urdu (the official language of Pakistan) word for henna. She has become very passionate about this form of art and has introduced it to the Sayre community.

UM: What would you say mendhi is if you had to explain it to someone who knew nothing about it?
Hina: So mendhi comes from a leaf that you grind up into a paste. It’s mixed up with some other organic ingredients and then the paste is used for decorative designs on your body. Once the paste dries it leaves an orange stain on your skin that lasts anywhere from one week to a whole month. It was first used in the sub-Saharan region and the Indian subcontinent because the paste itself had a cooling effect. People would put it on their palms, which helped keep their hands and feet cold. Eventually, people started using it in celebrations, particularly wedding ceremonies. Today it continues to play a large role in Pakistani culture.

UM: When did your interest in mendhi start?
Hina: Well, I remember when I was really young we used to visit Pakistan once or twice a year, and one time at my grandfather’s house some of my aunts were running around with mendhi cones doing designs on the kids. So I definitely grew up with it from an early age, but I don’t remember an exact moment when I was as interested or passionate about it as I am now. Once I started middle school and high school I became more interested. Over time I get a lot better and really fell in love with it.

UM: What makes you so passionate about mendhi?
Hina: Well, one reason that I love it so much is just for the purpose of drawing and having something to do. It’s such a beautiful design. It’s an artistic outlet or me and fun to do, plus it means so much culturally to me that it’s the perfect combination. I remember when I was younger I would go to school festivals and do mendhi on people, but the teachers would say it’s a distraction or like a tattoo. This was something that means so much to both family and me. My mother, my grandmother, it’s important to all of us so when I have mendhi on my hand I feel proud of my culture and I want to show people that this is something to celebrate. Embracing diversity and where you come from is so important, rather than just conforming to what everyone else wants. Eventually the teachers got used to it and now it’s the number one hit during Sayre’s fall festival. It’s just a matter of opening up people to what it actually is. You can’t blame them for not knowing something unless they continue that ignorance after you’ve explained what it is. The most important thing is communication and open conversation. You want to make other people feel comfortable coming up to you and asking questions even if they think its sounds dumb. I encourage people to ask me about mendhi. It’s really tied to my identity. It’s a physical display of where I come from and of my culture.

Embracing diversity and where you come from is so important, rather than just conforming to what everyone else wants.

UM: How have you brought mendhi into the community?
Hina: When I entered high school I found out you could easily create a club. All you needed was a group that was interested so I decided to do that in the 10th grade. I got a teacher sponsor and we started the club with meetings every Monday for practice. Then I started teaching people in the club where mendhi is used, why it is used, and what kind of importance it has for the people in those places. I wanted to give them a sense of depth and a glimpse of the tradition behind it. That deserves to be recognized so they don’t think mendhi is just something you go and get at the beach.

UM: In what ways does mendhi differ in certain areas as opposed to others?

Hina: The designs have really evolved from place to place. In Africa, typical mendhi designs are made up of geometric patterns, lines, zigzags, and dots. In the Middle East places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have really flowy, flowery, and swirly designs that are open and less intricate. As for Pakistan, the designs are insanely intricate. India’s mendhi style is similar to Pakistan’s but a little less intricate. It’s amazing how many different styles are out there. You can really do what ever you want with it. It’s so cool how different countries and groups have taken that freedom and made traditional designs out of it. You can do anything you want with mendhi and that’s definitely part of why I love it so much.


UM: What would you say to people using mendhi as a result of its trendiness?
Hina: The thing is this is meant for decorative purposes, so if someone from another ethnicity decides to use it as a decorative piece that’s awesome. However, I hope people don’t think about it as a fleeting trend because it’s so important and distinctive of our culture. It can be degrading to the meaning but it’s great when people do it in a respectful way and know a little bit about what they’re doing.

UM: As you go off to college how do you plan to take mendhi with you?
Hina: Basically I want to continue sharing mendhi in the form of a club at UK. I hope that by continuing to introduce mendhi to people there then there’ll be a more inclusive, understanding kind of environment at my school.



Ella White is a seventeen-year-old junior at Lafayette High School. Ella is a dancer and is looking to attend college for dance and acrobatics. She has been acting and dancing since she was 12 years old. Ella joined the dance company ‘Black Bird’ four years ago. The group is separated into junior and senior artistic groups. She is in the senior company, which focuses on acrobatics, aerialist silks, and apparatuses.


UM: How did you begin dancing?
Ella: I joined a theater group when I was seven called Academy for Creative Excellence and met my current dance teacher, Jenny Fitzpatrick, who is the founder of Black Bird Dance Theater. I always loved to preform when I was younger so it was easy for me to be attracted to new artistic outlets like dance.

UM: What is your dance company like?
Ella: Black Bird Dance Theatre is a pretty small company so everyone knows everyone. It’s very family oriented. It’s not like most dance companies because everyone is really supportive and no one has a sense of entitlement. All the dancers are equal. We’re all there to focus on our training, experiment, and push ourselves. We don’t do traditional ballet point dancing. We do a lot of tap, jazz, contemporary, and technique. Right now we are working on silks and aerial stuff. This year our winter production was “Ugly”, which is a self-written show by our dance teacher, Jenny. The show contained hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, jazz, and even tap. We also preformed “Cats”, the musical, this year. Right now the senior company is working on our rendition of “Romeo and Juliet”.

UM: What is your favorite type of dance?
Ella: My favorite type of dance is pop-jazz because it’s up-tempo and hard. I like being challenged as a dancer because it really helps me grow. The dance world is really competitive so you have to get tough quickly. I also enjoy hip-hop and lyrical. What it really boils down to is getting to express myself with my body, and if I’m doing that then I don’t really mind what style of dance I’m doing it in.

UM: Do you have your own fears about pursuing dance?
Ella: Yeah, definitely. I’m afraid of pursing dance as a career because you hear lots of horror stories from people coming back from New York because they couldn’t afford to live there. They didn’t make it. But I have realized that it’s more important to study what you love and take the chance, because if you don’t take the chance you will never know. If I don’t make it I will just do something else. That fear kind of makes me want to double major, but I don’t think I’m going to do that because nothing is as important to me. So why would I do something that I’m not going to enjoy?


Locally Launched

Maria Owen is a 17-year-old senior at Sayre School.  Maria plans to attend Pratt Institute in New York City this fall as a fashion design major. She chose to go into fashion design because she has always been interested in fashion and thought it would be a practical application of her artistic skills. Maria was also accepted to Parsons School of Design, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and The University of the Arts London. She paints, writes, draws and does photography. Maria responded to questions submitted to her in writing.


UM: Have people been supportive of your decision to pursue art?

Maria: People have been really supportive of my art, but I didn’t believe that I was going to pursue it as a career. I realized I wanted to pursue it when I started looking at colleges. I went to see some more traditional colleges, which really helped me to realize that a more art-focused environment was for me. I think you can be more successful at something that is stereotypically a less practical career it you love what you’re doing.

UM: Who are some of your favorite artists/inspirations?

Maria: I really like Yves Klein. He did a collection of painting and his signature color, International Klein Blue, was copyrighted and I quickly fell in love with it. I also like Klimt because his work is so weird but also so intriguing. In a Klimt painting you can see he’s put so much of himself into the piece, but its still gorgeous. You can pull from it. It’s not shallow art. It has depth, passion, and meaning. I struggled with that because you can paint a pretty picture you like but that doesn’t mean you’re creating something worth seeing. Fashion wise, the 20’s in general are a great inspiration to me because of the clothing and what it symbolized in terms of women gaining independence. I’m kind of an F. Scott Fitzgerald fanatic. Even his writing can inspire my art and designs. I really love Art Deco too. I enjoy the ancient Egypt influence it has, plus I was obsessed with Egypt as a kid and the patterns. Someone else would be Coco Chanel. She definitely helped me bring my love of art and fashion together. She was so influential and now Chanel is iconic. Menswear for women didn’t used to be a big thing, but she changed that, and that is something I admire.

UM: What has been your favorite art class thus far?

Maria: My favorite art class was probably AP Art because it allowed me to have a lot of freedom and it was more challenging and less by the book. You feel more confident when you’re not doing the same textbook stuff as everybody else.

UM: What was the best critique you have ever received?

Maria: I don’t get that much critique at this point, therefore I’m my hardest critic. I look forward to being in an environment where someone will actually tear my work apart, because even if you don’t agree with a critique its good to get more people’s perspectives. Not everyone is going to like your work, that is OK.

UM: What has been your most challenging art class?

Maria: 3D Art was the most challenging class I ever took. It really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, however I’m glad that I had that experience especially now that I am entering a three dimensional field of study.

UM: Are you satisfied with your art education up to this point?

Maria: Well, I think according to the schools I applied to I’m in a good place right now, but there is always room to improve. All the teachers in the world can’t make you a great artist or designer; you have to have your own experiences and build yourself as an artist.

UM: Would you say that Lexington has influenced you art at all?

Maria: Yeah, I think Lexington is a good place to grow up if you’re interested in art because there are so many neat galleries. I’ve always felt that Lexington has a bit of a European feel to it. It’s a small town but you still get exposed to a lot of creativity.

UM: As you go off to Pratt, what are you most excited about?

Maria: I’m excited for art to not be a hobby anymore and to be my education.

Merav Eres is a senior at Sayre School in Lexington. She is doing her senior month-long internship with UnderMain. Merav is writing a series of pieces for us focusing on arts education and local high school artists and their work. This is the second post in the series. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall. She plans to major in philosophy.


The Benefits of Arts Education

Happy teacher holding page showing arts in her classroom at school

It is a disappointing reality that arts education must somehow “prove itself” in order to be taken seriously and receive proper funding. The inherent value of the arts in schools has become more and more overlooked as budget cuts have been implemented in many school systems. The irony of it all is while arts education becomes increasingly  threatened, more  science surfaces suggesting the concrete benefits of such programs on  brain development. Creativity remains a curious subject for the scientific community. Here are several facts and results of studies concerning the positive effects of art and creativity:

~ Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands are the countries that rank highest in math and science, and all these countries have mandatory art classes.

~ Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans, an advanced technique measuring and mapping brain activity, show activity and changes in every sensorimotor region of the brain during improvisation, such as freestyle rapping!

~ Creativity and art are some of the things that distinguish us most from other animals.

~ Neuroaesthetics studies the effects of arts on the brain using methods in neuroscience. This area of study has increasingly become of interest to many scientists.

~ Scientists have long been curious about both the evolutionary purposes of creativity and the reasons that every single culture throughout history has produced art.

~ The Federal Government spends about 250 million dollars on the humanities and the arts, whereas the National Science Foundation receives around 5 billion dollars.

~ According to many studies, students who take art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement in school.

~ Sports and the arts are the two biggest aspects of school that keep youth who are prone to dropping out in school.

~ In a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University entitled “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain” found that arts education can actually help positively rewire the brain.

~ On the other hand, an interesting study to consider is that of Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland conducted in 2007. In their research they found very little improvement in the areas of math, science, and reading for youth they enrolled in art classes. The study was understandably met with much backlash. However the researchers stood by their study, writing that while the arts do not directly improve academic achievement they should be inherently valued.

With all this information readily available it’s hard to believe that  arts education in the schools is a subject that still has to be fought for. There should not be a need to study the benefits of arts education. What other subject has to prove that it has a positive effect on other academic endeavors? The need to emphasize scientific studies to prove the value of arts education shows that we are not focusing on arts, but rather on how the arts can improve subjects that are generally thought to be more important. The standard for the value of arts education at times looks to be higher than for other school subjects.

Interested in finding out more about the benefits of arts education?  These sources can provide a good start:
1. 10 Salient Studies on the Arts in Education – A brief review of ten studies on arts education.

2. Arts and the Mind – A two-part PBS documentary, “Arts & The Mind”.

3.  Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?

Merav Eres is a senior at Sayre School in Lexington. She is doing her senior month-long internship with UnderMain. Merav is writing a series of pieces for us focusing on arts education and local high school artists and their work. This is the first post in the series. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall. She plans to major in philosophy.