By Sophia Chang
The 17-year-old senior at Cardozo High School in Bayside tackles slavery, the Rwandan genocide and Iraqi prisoner abuse in collages, sketches and paintings that try to encompass the horrific scope of such abuses, emphasizing what she calls “man's inhumanity to man.”For her thoughtful artwork and vision, Qualls, a Cambria Heights resident, has been selected a finalist in a talent search sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts. She flew to Miami earlier this month to present her artwork to a panel of judges, who will select nominees for the prestigious Presidential Scholar in the Arts award. Past winners of the NFAA talent search include singer Vanessa Williams and novelist Allegra Goodman. The nominations will be announced in February.She uses the theme of injustices perpetuated by mankind on mankind to advocate for a hopeful world of peace.”I'm in love with it,” she said of art. “I love the work I do, I love the work of others. I think one of the greatest things man can do is to create art.” She said she spends hours a day on her art in addition to her honors class work, sometimes working through the night when inspired.Qualls, who started taking art classes in her freshman year at Cardozo, said initially her work focused on the history of slavery, through portraits of people with exaggerated, twisted expressions indicative of the prescribed labor and lives of slaves.”Blacks were forced to feel certain ways, act certain ways,” she said. This exploration of slavery evolved into her larger theme of inhumanity, she said.”Jessica probably represents the best of what we would like to see from an arts education,” said her teacher, Doug Potter. “She has a grasp of contemporary issues, a sense of history. What lies behind her work are the ideas.”Qualls chose recent examples of inhumanity such as the Rwandan massacre and the Abu Ghraib prisoner scandal to “take things we've had to deal with in the past, and bring them to the future,” she said. “People have a temporary reaction to these things, but after a while people forget. That's why these things occurred over and over.”In some of her intricate collages, Qualls used archival photos of the tragedies with her own photos of a mannequin's head posed in trees, layered on top with dark dirt and twigs. “I make these small and delicate so people come up closer, and actually see the photos,” she said.Qualls hopes to attend a prestigious academic college with a strong art program, and her top choices are Tufts, Cornell and Yale universities as well as the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.Ultimately, she wants to become a professional artist, continuing her work focusing on socio-political issues.”I just want to show the way we should be,” she said. “These are things we have to pay attention to and be cognizant of.”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.