A house and mailbox fill the center of Amelia Kamin’s winning artwork for the 2021 Congressional Art Competition for the 37th Congressional District of California.
Amelia’s artwork, though, is not a simple representation of her home: These objects emerge from the backpack she carries in the piece of digital art. She looks down, away from the viewer. A hand clutches the backpack strap and covers her mouth. My Backpack represents Amelia’s struggle with her parents’ divorce. She says that since kindergarten, she’s practically lived in her backpack, moving from one parent’s home to another every other day.
“My backpack has always been a burden on me, both physically and emotionally, as I’ve had to carry my life around in my backpack,” Amelia said.
At the same time, Amelia notices hope for the future. “The bright light in the corner symbolizes the freedom I crave as I get closer to my graduation and can finally release these years of built-up burdens,” she said.
While Amelia’s artwork is intensely personal, she hopes that others can relate to it if they have had a similar experience with parental separation. She wants her artistic self-disclosure to help others.
“If I were to give a piece of advice to other artists out there, it would definitely be to share your story through your art,” she said. “Be vulnerable because you never know how you may positively impact others through your work.”
Amelia’s advice reflects the work of her favorite author and illustrator, Raina Telgemeier, the creator of the graphic novels Smile, Sisters, and Drama. She particularly appreciates Telgemeier’s works since she said they “strongly connect with my beliefs of sharing one’s personal stories with the world through imagery.”
Her belief in the importance of sharing one’s experience is like the advice she’s received from her art teachers, who’ve encouraged her to pour herself into each of her creations. She says that just as she’s received that advice, she passes it along to others as well.
In addition to sharing with others through her art, Amelia is also incredibly engaged with other artists. She admires her fellow art students both at her high school and Ryman Arts, a non-profit organization that provides artistic instruction free of charge to students in southern California. Amelia also says that her favorite artists are the “small artists on Instagram” with whom she can interact directly. One way she’s engaged with other artists on Instagram is by starting the #createyourmermaid challenge, which has inspired over 100 mermaid-themed posts on the platform. She hopes other Congressional Art Competition winners will participate. Amelia’s art–including her mermaids–can be found on Instagram at @ameliavarts.
Amelia’s artistic endeavors have not only led to her in-person and online engagement with other artists. They have now taken her to Washington, DC, so she could see her artwork hanging in the Congressional Art Competition exhibit at the U.S. Capitol. First held in 1982, the Congressional Art Competition is a bipartisan initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives to support the artistic talents of high school students. Every Member of the House may hold an art competition for high school students in their districts. The winning artworks are displayed for a year in an exhibit in the Cannon Tunnel, which connects the House of Representatives office buildings to the U.S. Capitol. Members of Congress, congressional staff, and thousands upon thousands of visitors view the exhibit each year as they pass between the buildings.
Amelia was in disbelief when she learned she had won the Congressional Art Competition.
“I was scrolling through my emails early in the morning and I decided to click on all my unread emails,” she said. “I read an official email from Representative Karen Bass’s office saying I had won the competition in my district. Seeing my name in first place was one of the most amazing and shocking feelings I’ve ever had.”
Learning that she had won the competition was not the only surprise. She had thought that her art might be displayed the Culver City, California, town hall or in Sacramento, the state capital. Amelia never expected that her art would actually be sent to Washington, DC, for display. She says she was “unbelievably honored” to go to Washington during Thanksgiving break in 2021 to see the exhibit.
Going forward from her experience with the Congressional Art Competition, Amelia hopes to be an illustrator someday and create a graphic novel like Telgemeier’s. “I feel that this would be an amazing accomplishment that I would be proud of my work whether or not it is successful,” she said.
Given Amelia’s desire to include her experience in her art, perhaps we’ll see the Congressional Art Competition feature in a future graphic novel.
“This is an experience I will cherish forever,” she said.
Students who would like more information about how to enter should contact their U.S. Representative. Contact information is available at House.gov.
The Congressional Institute has sponsored the Congressional Art Competition since 2009. The Congressional Institute is a not-for-profit organization that helps Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helps constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature. It publishes The Sausage Factory blog, Surviving Inside Congress, and the U.S. House of Representatives Floor Procedures Manual. To sign up for updates about the Congressional Art Competition, click here.