I recently had a chance to attend the Senior Showcase at Moore College of Art & Design. I was impressed at the level of work the students were doing and the subject matter they took on. I took a moment to chat with two of the standout students, Helena Jordan and Annais Delgado Sanchez. Things are looking a little bleak this week with all that’s in the news, but with these two kind, thoughtful, talented, and intelligent young people getting ready to step out into the world, our future looks a little brighter.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m about to be a graduate of the Moore College of Design. Some of the things I have a great interest in are branding for a design agency or studio, and package designing as well as book arts. In the past year, I’ve tried to combine my love of film with graphic design, so for my senior project I created several movie posters exploring the female gaze. It gave me a chance to explore not just the intellectual side, but technically I was able to explore different styles and mediums, like collage, digital illustration, photography, etc. As for me, I’m originally from central Jersey, Hopewell, but I live here now.
What spurred your love of films?
It was my brother who really got me to appreciate movies. He has a very large collection of films that he started at a young age and we used to watch them together. I especially liked the horror films and it made me realize how diverse films can be with both the stories and the aesthetics. I was always curious about how gender and sexuality were portrayed in movies. It’s something that continues now as I try to figure out how I can explore that in the work that I do. I’m not a filmmaker, so how do I incorporate that in the advertising world? How do I tell the stories in a different medium? That’s where the idea for movie posters came for my senior project.
What were you like as a kid?
I was that shy artsy child. I was also a neurodivergent child, so that shaped a lot of my experiences and interactions with other people. I was always doing artwork in class when I should have been doing my schoolwork! I wanted to do many things as a child, mostly art of some kind, and my parents were very encouraging in helping fuel that creative side.
What did they do?
For a long time my Mom was a freelance graphic designer, I believe she got her degree from UC Berkeley and she also did photography. My Dad’s an engineer, but he’s always had an appreciation for the arts, so it was great to have them both available to talk to about the thought processes behind my work and what I’m doing. It makes my heart… it gives me butterflies.
You’re graduating this month, is that a scary or exciting prospect?
For me it’s actually very exciting, I’m looking forward to the change. It’ll be nice to figure out what I want for the future. I know a lot of people my age feel very scared and initially I was too, but I decided to take my time and embrace the transition period. Deciding what you want to do and who you want to work for is very important and I’m giving myself time to do that.
Very smart. Who was a favorite teacher?
In high school I had a teacher, Dr. Robert O’Boyle, we called him Doc and he was known to be very serious and strict but I liked the fact that he was always 100% honest with me about where my skills were and where he thought I would best thrive. He taught me the importance of having thick skin and understanding that criticism, even when it comes off a bit harsh, is something that you just have to sit with for a while and decide, “What can I take from it and how can I improve?” At the end of the day, it’s for you to make use of. When I wanted to apply to art schools he looked at my list and said, “I don’t think these places would suit you, they’re too intense.” He’s the one who suggested that Moore would be the best place for me. And here I am now, about to graduate!
What do you think was the value of going to a school that was/is predominantly women?
Moore has changed, starting even before I got here. It’s evolving to be more inclusive so we now have a diverse student body, with people who identify as non-binary and trans or trans-masculine, all across the spectrum, and we have a large LGBTQ community at the school. It makes me feel like there are so many more people who are able to understand how I feel, not just about my gender identity but also my sexuality. I identify as pansexual, and I can talk to people about it on a much deeper level and I can learn from other people. Before I came here, I knew maybe one NB or trans person. Being able to meet people and hear and understand their stories has made me understand myself better including my privilege, and to evolve how I interact with people.
When did you evolve with your own sexuality?
I originally came out as bisexual, but as I met more people, and learned about all the different expressions of gender, I realized that I was attracted to more than just binary expressions, that I like everyone! [Laughing] At the end of the day, I have love for all people so why would I subscribe that love to just men and women. When I was younger I used to fight with my femme side, probably because of what I saw in the media and wanted to reject, but now being in a diverse community allows me to accept my femininity in a way I didn’t before and embrace it through sexuality and through my art work. It allowed me to change the way I see myself and my body and how I behave or talk to people. I no longer try to adhere to other people’s standards or expectations.
Some things take time to change. When I came out, you were expected to wear flannel shirts and cargo pants with sandals. As a femme, I’d get flack for dressing up or wearing makeup. Fortunately, that didn’t last long when I was very vocal about being gay and people realized that I wasn’t just trying to claim “straight privilege.”
Yes, I decided I wanted to wear makeup not for men or women, it’s just where I feel most like myself. My femininity isn’t for anyone else but me.
Something you’d like to learn if you weren’t fearful?
Rollerskating. I’ve always wanted to do it but I have a fear of falling. Which is funny because I say that and yet I went cliff diving. I get anxiety but I try to control it.
Something you collect?
I have a lot of rings, my parents used to travel a lot and they’d bring me rings from other countries. I also have some family heirlooms [points to fingers]; I’m wearing this ring from my maternal grandmother and a brass ring that my mother brought back from Greece.
What’s a motto you try to live by?
It is what it is. There are a lot of things that will be out of your control in school and in life. Sometimes you just have to try to accept that and be positive and just say, “It is what it is” and move on.
Annais Delgado Sanchez
Where do you hail from?
I’m originally from Puerto Rico. I moved from P.R. to South Jersey my sophomore year of high school. I moved to the Washington Township/Gloucester County area and was there through the rest of high school until I moved to Philly for college.
[Laughing] I assume you didn’t move to Philly by yourself…
No! I moved here with my family, my mom and three siblings. I have two older brothers and a younger sister. I think we moved because my mom lost her job at the time and was like, “You know what? I think it’s about time to move to the states.” So we did.
What was the biggest culture shock?
Wow! So many! Um, well, high school was really hard. Being born and raised in P.R. I was used to being around a majority of people of color, so moving to that area was very different in that sense. I went to a predominantly white high school, so it was quite alienating. I didn’t find a lot of people who were like me or had similar experiences. High school is already difficult, and this added a lot of stress onto the experience. It was also very middle to upper middle class, and that was also hard because I’d never been either of those. So not only was there the cultural difference, there was a financial gap as well that was often very apparent and sometimes it really made me feel some kind of way about it.
What’s a tradition from P.R. that you continue to do?
Let’s see, in P.R. we celebrate Three Kings Day. We start at Thanksgiving and it’s a full month of celebrating! My mom’s been trying to bring that back. I think she just wants to keep Christmas going for as long as she can. I don’t think she took her tree down until February!
Tell mom I approve. I don’t think I took my tree down until March! Isn’t there a tradition where you go from house to house singing and playing music?
Yes! Las Parrandas; it’s like Christmas caroling, but way more fun. People bring instruments and play and sing. [Laughing] My mother plays the guitar and she’s been slowly collecting various instruments. I think she is trying to accumulate enough for us to do it here.
Do you play any instruments?
Oh nooo, I tried to play the piano but I don’t have the patience. If I can’t grasp something right away, I give up easily. I want to be good immediately and with music, you have to be patient in order to get better.
Then does that mean that graphics came easily to you?
I think so, I was the kid that everyone would say was going to be an artist. I was always drawing and considered the “artistic” sibling. It was my thing and moving here allowed me to take classes like graphic design and animation.
I was looking at your website and you certainly cover a lot of different disciplines.
Yeah, a lot of them are student projects. I really like branding, listening to what the client’s story is, and helping them find a look. It’s one of those things I have a good amount of experience with and so it comes easy to me. I also enjoy anything having to do with books and publication. One of the things that I’m going to miss about school is that we were able to pick our own themes and topics, and we were able to choose subjects that meant something to us. We won’t often have that luxury with real clients.
I know one of the topics that’s important to you is gender expression.
Yeah, that was the topic for my senior thesis. I identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns, and I wanted to talk about that. It’s interesting because Moore is historically a women’s college and there’s been a shift to try and find better ways to fit the needs of the current students because a lot of the students don’t necessarily identify as women. I wanted to help educate and expand thought. Going to a “historically women’s college,” I’m constantly mis-gendered, or just have a hard time with people not understanding that aspect of myself and other people in my community, so I was like, “You know what? I’m going to make my whole thesis about this and try to provide explanations to anyone confused.
Well, you won Best Portfolio in Graphic Design for the senior showcase, so it was a wise decision! You created a great, informative poster that you distributed at the showcase. It stated, “We want a world where people’s gender and expression can exist and just BE” and then gave a number of points to consider. Could you share some of them?
Sure, the first is that trans and non-binary expressions are not a universal thing, or look or feel. Each person takes their own journey, so don’t impose your view of what you think a trans or non-binary person should be. Second, I would say that trans and non-binary are not out to get anybody or erase women and men. There are as many ways to be a woman, a man, trans and non-binary as there are people. It’s often seen as something that people are doing TO others and making them feel uncomfortable, and that’s not the case. It’s just about existing and being affirmed. And third, I’d say that gender is so much broader than we were taught; it’s a social construct that we created and it’s up for interpretation. We are all much more than the things that society tries to impose on us, whether we identify as NB or trans.
How did you start your journey and what was the response from the family?
I also identify as queer, and lesbian, and that was never a problem. My mom is also a lesbian, so it was like, “Okay, you’re queer, join the club.” At college, I started to meet people who were trans or NB. Prior to that, I always thought being trans meant completely transitioning, male to female, or female to male, I didn’t realize that there was a whole spectrum of identities. Once I did, a lot of things started making sense, for me things never really fully clicked identifying as female, but I never felt the opposite of wanting to be “fully trans.” But once I learned what non-binary was, it was like “Oh! This feels much more fitting to me”. With my family it’s tricky; in the Latino culture, things are very gendered, even our language where words are assigned as male or female. My mom also has preconceived thoughts of what trans means in that all or nothing vein. She’s very open minded and is trying, but it’s hard to use neutral pronouns in Spanish! I haven’t said anything to my dad, but I’m planning on telling him. Hopefully before he sees this column or my thesis project!
Switching topics, where do young people go to meet other folks these days? Is it all online? In my day, we were at the clubs every weekend for social interaction.
Honestly, I’m not the person to ask about what the kids are doing. I’m such a homebody and the people I know from art school are also very low key, no clubbing for us. But yes, a lot of interactions do start online, you find events online to check out or meet people on Tinder of Bumble Friends.
What’s a favorite place to hang out?
I enjoy hiking anywhere that’s green. My girlfriend works at the Wissahickon Environmental Center and that’s a favorite place to go hiking.
What was a favorite book as a kid?
I really liked the Percy Jackson series; I was really into Greek mythology.
What’s a historical figure you identify with?
There’s two, they were both involved at Stonewall: Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera.
If you could own a famous piece of art, what would you want?
I feel like anything from Yayoi Kusama, anything she makes is like, wow, especially the pumpkins.
It seems like Gen Z is growing up in an age of increased stress and anxiety. Why do you think that is? Speak for your whole generation.
[Laughing] Right? I do see a lot of it. There’s always pressure to do the most, and a lot of times that’s with the least access to resources and help. There’s the idea that you have to immediately follow a certain career path after college and in life. I see it all the time. Added to that, we live in a dystopia with so many horrible things happening in the world that people my age feel the pressure to single-handedly fix everything. And it’s just not possible.
What’s your daily mantra?
Trust in yourself and try to be open and flexible. Things aren’t always going to go to plan but they’re still going to happen and they’re still going to be good. I tell myself this all the time so that I don’t stress about things.