It’s been very busy since I arrived in Colombia on May 26 for my Community Engagement through the Mural Arts exchange.
The first week of my time here in Cali was spent doing hands-on workshops with different groups of teens, children, and adults. The two adult workshops I led were focused on teaching some of my techniques of large-scale portrait painting. We started the workshops with a presentation of my work and a brief history of mural painting. Then, all of the participants selected a photo which they would be reproducing. The photos were scaled to the right size and in grey scale. The people in the photos represented famous icons in Colombia and in the United States. I lead the participants through the process of gridding the photo and the canvas. Prior to beginning the workshop we prepared 10 pre-mixed tones of grey. Each artist was given some of each color and instructed on how to paint the portrait using my method.
Overall the workshops were very successful. The two adult groups were very different. The first group consisted of young adults and the second of more seasoned professionals. In the second group I decided to do a group critique at the end of the exercise so that we could discuss the pros and cons of each painting, and their successes and failures. This part went very well and opened a great dialogue and camaraderie.
The other hands-on workshop was with younger kids. On small panels, each student created a scene which represented their thoughts on peace and social inclusion. They used monochromatic colors and created a final piece which will be hung in an outdoor park next to the community center that hosted the activity, the Fundación Autónoma de Occidente. The kids loved the project and interacting with us. They had fun learning English words and even getting us to sing in English. I think that seeing their project up on the wall as a permanent installation will be very rewarding. It is a reminder that their voice matters. I was especially moved when I was told the history of the neighboring park where the art will be installed. It was once a very dangerous area filled with drugs and crime. To battle this, murals were painted on all the walls and the atmosphere has changed radically.
A very exciting activity we completed was the one-day mural project. Twelve artists joined me at the north branch of the Centro Cultural Colombo Americano, our in-country partner, on Monday morning to design a mural for that location. The wall was big – if my memory serves me correctly, 35-40 ft. long by 11 ft high. The themes we decided on included cultural collaboration and dialogue between the U.S. and Colombia. In small groups, the artists worked on design ideas. Then we compiled all of our ideas into one design. This was fast paced and very exciting. By 11:30 we were downstairs painting. Working with a grid, we transferred our design and started painting the mural. I have never worked so quickly before – there was a flurry of action and by 6:30 that evening the mural was complete.
I am inspired to do more projects like this, getting a big group of artists together to tackle a wall. Even though we all have different styles, the overall work looks unified and very impressive. Best of all, everyone really enjoyed the experience and had a voice in the piece.
Upon the completion of the one-day mural, which we titled “United,” I began work planning the next mural at the south branch.
This process is very different, much slower and methodical. Throughout the first week I took photos of different women I encountered. The goal is to create a mural about female empowerment and social inclusion, so I took photos of women from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Using photos of birds and flowers provided by participating artists, we created crowns and necklaces to embellish the three selected portraits making them into “Tres Reinas” or “Three Queens.” The women are portrayed as strong and noble, wearing nature as their armor – a celebration of strength and dignity.
We are working now on the highly detailed mural. I have been working daily with different artists to show them my technique and work with them on the mural. It is coming along great and we have two more days to complete the project.
I have progressively become a stronger and stronger believer that art and especially murals can dramatically change an environment. Changing the visual landscape is vital to promoting a new way of thinking. I have seen that done across the world and very poignantly here in Cali. I have never been anywhere with so many murals, mosaics, and street art. The city is an outdoor gallery. Maybe it is a visceral reaction to years of civil unrest. The artists take to the streets to voice their desire for peace. And peace, it seems, they are getting. I hope I can be a voice in getting this message out in the United States.
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