Humans of Harker: Life follows art

Ayla Tanurhan (12) grows with her creative work


Irina Malyugina

“What’s helped me get through high school is reminding myself of my own worth. We all are good at something. I’m not necessarily the best at STEM, but I excel in my English and history courses. Everyone has some sort of strong point, so it’s unnecessary to compare yourself to others,” Ayla Tanurhan (12) said.

Underneath a staircase in the Shah building is a small corner where students often hang their work. Visitors can find student-made creations on racks pushed against the walls, or neon lights illuminating the space. During the week of Dec. 9, multiple photographs of various sizes decorate the walls, depicting faces and figures strikingly accentuated with red paint.

Manifesting the themes of insecurity and self-doubt, the images are in line with artist Ayla Tanurhan’s (12) focus on the experiences of girls her age.

“That’s what I understand the best,” Ayla said. “Right now, I’m creating a portfolio about insecurity, so it’s a lot of images where I’m trying to represent that insecurity.”

Ayla usually begins with a specific idea in mind and writes copious notes to decide how best to convey it.

“Sometimes I will have an image idea first or a phrase or a word and then I just write a lot so I can map out how I want to present it or what motifs I should show in the image,” Ayla said. “I have a notebook where I write down all the ideas I get, so I sometimes go to that for inspiration.”

Though Ayla has been working with photography for the last four years, her relationship with art began at a young age. Growing up, Ayla was inclined towards studying other people and thinking before interacting with them. She has continued to seek an understanding of the environment she enters.

“My mom says that when I was a kid, I would go to the playground and watch for 30 minutes before I’d actually go and join,” Ayla said. “Obviously, now it takes less than 30 minutes to understand where I am, but being emotionally perceptive and things like that are still important to me.”

After visiting her first art display – a Keith Haring exhibit – around the age of twelve, Ayla was inspired to create art in her own style.

“I always imagined that there was a structure to art that I had to follow,” Ayla said. “I didn’t feel like I couldn’t excel in that but simultaneously being introduced to photography and seeing such a unique style [and] such an original form of expression made me realize that I didn’t have to conform to artistic convention and that I could forge my own way in the artistic field.”

Later, Ayla’s father introduced her to photography, and she was drawn to pursue it.

“Unlike other mediums, there’s something real about it. You see a photograph and you trust it. It feels a lot more relatable, in a way,” Ayla said.

Art additionally introduced Ayla to new ways of thought, allowing her to think about certain topics in a new way.

“It gives me a break from my academic focuses, but it also gives me a different perspective on them,” Ayla said. “I think it’s important to build creativity because it gives you another way to look at my other subjects because your mind just works differently when you’re working creatively.”

Ronit Gagneja (12), who met Ayla in middle school, has observed how she weaves her art into her daily life.

“I think in everything she does, she brings some aspects of art into her life,” Ronit said. “She sort of made it part of her everyday activities, and it’s become a big part of her everyday life that way.”

As her life has been influenced by her creative work, her work has been influenced by her life.

“It’s all a reflection of her own feelings. As she’s dealt with different things in her life, I think what her perspective is in her art has shifted,” Ronit said.

Ayla not only uses art as an outlet for creativity but also as an outlet for her emotions and reflections.

“For me, it’s kind of like therapy, in a way. It helps me work through issues – it’s like a way to put my thoughts into a physical thing,” Ayla said.

The familiarity with herself and her interests she gained from art also gave her the support she needed to engage with the subjects she enjoyed. These subjects – psychology, philosophy and political science – have been areas of interest for Ayla since middle school. These areas of study remain a significant part of her life today, both inside and outside of class.

“My friend Caroline [Yager (12)] and I like to talk about psychology and philosophy, about our thoughts on different beliefs, our own beliefs, and things like that,” Ayla said. 

Caroline shares Ayla’s interest in art, often discussing the topics covered in Art History classes, which they both take, and the paintings mentioned in class that stood out to them. Recently, Ayla and Caroline have been gripped by Primavera, a painting by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli, whose other works include the famous Birth of Venus painting.

“Ayla and I are obsessed with that painting [Primavera],” Caroline said. “We decided that, for prom, we are going to make our own dresses inspired by that piece and some of our other favorite art pieces.”

According to Caroline, who met Ayla after joining Harker in her sophomore year, the content of their philosophical conversations is often engaging and revelatory.

“She’s really easy to talk to, and she’s so smart, and opinionated in the best way. She’s just a very fascinating conversationalist,” Caroline said. “Every time we get together, we always have some sort of discussion that changes my viewpoints.”

Ayla’s open-mindedness allows her to explore a variety of viewpoints without restricting herself from considering an opinion she doesn’t agree with. Ayla applies this approach to her life outside of philosophy, rationally considering her circumstances before coming to a conclusion.

“She’s very realistic about what her options are. She wants to make things work out, but she understands when things don’t,” Ronit said. “She works to make sure that she’s satisfied with what’s going on in her life, and if she’s not, she finds a way to change that.”

The personal security Ayla has gleaned from her relationship with art continues to support her in her life outside of her creative work.

“What’s helped me get through high school is reminding myself of my own worth. We all are good at something. I’m not necessarily the best at STEM, but I excel in my English and history courses,” Ayla said. “Everyone has some sort of strong point, so it’s unnecessary to compare yourself to others.”