An eye for art, an eye for justice

Sofia Kouri combines art and activism to document her life


Sofia Kouri

CAPTURE THE NATURE. Accompanying U-High senior Sofia Kouri, Latin School student Lily Campbell scales the Davidson Glacier in Haines, Alaska. Sofia won a Scholastic Award for this photo, which was part of many landscape photos she took on the trip.

Nicky Edwards-Levin, Midway Reporter

ELEGANT STRETCHES. Senior Madison Christmas stretches before ballet rehearsal at the Hyde Park School of Dance. Sofia captured photos of a few friends for her own portrait project. “I was trying to become better with portraiture,” Sofia said, “and the subject of all of them was the idea of girls, and what it means to be a teenage girl during our current time.”

Award-winning photographer. Activist. Art curator. Add tutor, singer, club president and Social Justice Week organizer to that list. This is how Sofia Kouri, a senior, spends her time. Even outside of school or activities, the arts shape who she is. And she doesn’t do it all just for her résumé — she invests herself 100 percent to every single activity.

In eighth grade, Sofia displayed her passion for art when she saved up $300 for a Canon T3i camera. Even with just figuring out how to work the camera came a learning curve, but Sofia stuck with it.

“It came from a lot trial and error and a lot of messing around and seeing what I was attracted to as an artist,” Sofia said.

Once she got the hang of the camera, Sofia was able to direct her focus toward topics that interested her.

“At first, I started getting into photography when I was traveling because it was a way to document what I was doing,” Sofia said.

But as she has matured as a student, citizen and artist, she has begun to take a different approach to her photography.

“Now, in Chicago,” she said, “I think of it more as documenting the city and the ways people live in more nuanced ways.”

After an introduction with photography, Sofia is working on documentation and presentation with other media.

Sofia was chosen this year as the Corvus Gallery Intern, a student who works with fine arts teacher Gina Alicea to learn to curate art exhibits.

According to Ms. Alicea, one of the reasons Sofia was chosen for this role was her interest in art as a whole.

“After an interview and conversation with her, it was apparent to me — the quality of her artwork, her aesthetic eye, her thoughtfulness for thinking through how art is made and how it can be displayed and her curiosity in how to put together art exhibitions,” Ms. Alicea said.

For her art to be truly meaningful, according to Sofia, it needs to be universal.

Sofia Kouri

“With something visual, everyone, regardless of language or other barriers, can interpret that,” Sofia said. “if you’re speaking a language, not everyone can understand that, but everyone can recognize a design if it’s done well.” 

But Sofia’s desire to reach and effect everyone extends beyond the camera.

Sofia is also a social activist. She is the leader of the club Latinos Unidos, as well as a singer in the Chicago Children’s Choir, which offers after-school programs for Chicago Public Schools that don’t have an arts program.

In addition to organizing social justice week, Sofia’s activism takes the form of tutoring. Ever since teaching a second grade boy how to read two years ago, Sofia has been tutoring the same student.

According to Sofia, even though tutoring is just a small service to the community, she thinks that it is one of the most important.

With something visual, everyone, regardless of languages or other barriers, can interpret that. If you’re speaking a language, not everyone can understand that, but everyone can regcognize a design if it’s done well.

— Sofia Kouri

“The idea that activism has to be organizing a rally with 10,000 people — yeah, that’s great, but a lot of it is stuff at the grassroots,” Sofia said. “For high school students, especially here, since we’re so busy, a lot of the work that you can do with the grassroots is some of the most important stuff you can do.”

Though her list of activities is long, she doesn’t view each item as separate. In fact, she views the arts as connected to everything — activism, school, even life.

“I would say that me as a student or me as an activist is the same as me as an artist,” Sofia said. “With regards to social justice, the arts are a really powerful tool, because they are a way that you can get people to pay attention to what you want them to say.”

Though Sofia’s life is jam-packed, she likes it that way. She said the feeling of making a difference and being part of something bigger than her is really why she does it. Everyone can see her photos and everyone can be affected by her activism. So even though her résumé is indeed packed, that’s not why she does it.