Anthony Kordahi’s father emigrated from Lebanon to the United States in the 1980s to escape civil war and live in a country where he could have a voice, and vote what was in his heart. So, when Kordahi was asked to paint someone who inspires him to vote, his father was high on the list.
Kordahi is one of 20 California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) students whose paintings of family and friends are featured in a regional non-partisan art project called the Next Generation of Voters.
Next Generation of Voters was developed by artist Deborah Aschheim, who is part of Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture’s Creative Strategist-Artist in Residence program, while in residency at the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk. The project’s goal is to encourage people–especially college students–to vote in the 2020 California Presidential Primary Election in March.
When Aschheim first met with students in CSUDH Assistant Professor of Art Devon Tsuno’s Painting 1 course in spring 2019, she said she didn’t know what the project would become.
“I really wanted to find a way to let the students be the generative voice for the project, so we did ‘design thinking,’ an exercise using Post-It notes that whittles down a large group of ideas,” Aschheim explained. “Through this process, it evolved into the idea of unpacking the word ‘voter.’ We began thinking about who votes, who doesn’t vote, who can vote, and who has trouble voting. This eventually turned into, ‘Who inspires you to vote?’”
With the design direction decided, students painted portraits of the most influential people in their lives. Kordahi chose his parents as subjects. He says politics are important to his entire family and that conversations can get pretty loud at the dinner table, even though they all lean in the same direction.
“They are the most influential people in my life and I really enjoy jumping into massive political debates when we get together for holidays and dinners,” said Kordahi, whose mother emigrated from Canada. “They have their own opinions and sources and have helped shape me politically in a significant way.”
Students presented their portraits to their class, who provided feedback that helped each student decide on the final portrait that would represent their inspiration.
Kordahi ultimately chose his father, whose image is now printed on the front of a postcard with the text: “He came to the U.S. for freedom and a voice.” The back of the card reads, “My father immigrated to the U.S. in the 80s to escape the civil war that was ravaging Lebanon and Kuwait. He came here because our democracy allowed him greater freedoms than anywhere else and a voice within his community.”
“I liked the real-world application of this project. I follow politics regularly, so I’m always interested in encouraging people to vote and getting them interested in politics, especially the youth, who are the most underrepresented when it comes to voting,” said Kordahi. “My hope is that my father’s story inspires others as much as he inspires me.”
CSUDH will serve as a Los Angeles County Vote Center in the state’s Presidential Primary Election, starting Saturday, Feb. 29 through Tuesday, March 3. The posters will be exhibited in the Vote Center and posted around campus. The postcards will be distributed by the student artists on campus, and they have been encouraged to share them with friends and family, and in their communities.
CSUDH’s project served as the inspiration for similar student voting projects that Aschheim launched at CSU Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Northridge, as well as at several local community colleges.
“Deborah has a way of drawing the best work out of students. She has a background as a professor and is a very accomplished educator, having taught at UC Irvine and UCLA,” said Tsuno. “She reached out to several other colleges, and decided she wanted to work with us first.”
Los Angeles County has over 10 million residents, with 5.4 million registered voters out of 6 million eligible citizens. “It can be easy for an individual voter to feel unseen or unheard,” said Aschheim. “Cal State Dominguez Hills and the other campuses I’m working with are giving voting a more local and personal feel, and that directly speaks to the communities that will be voting on the campus.”
CSUDH studio arts major Krista Williams painted portraits of her 2-year-old nephew, her uncle, and her great-aunt, who was chosen to be featured in the posters and postcards. Her great-aunt was a poll worker in L.A. County for 62 years and was honored by the county and her church for her service before she died in 2016 at the age of 96.
“She was the matriarch of our family in Los Angeles and one of the first to come here from Arkansas and Oklahoma for a better life and education, and for work as part of what was called the ‘Second Great Migration,’” said Williams. “My great-aunt was such an inspiration to everyone. My hope is this project will inspire others to seek out someone in their families, or someone else who inspires them as much as she inspired me.”