• Exploring history through different perspectives

    How do we learn and then explore the history of our countries when we share more than one national or ethnic identity?  And what is the meaning of "modernity" in developing countries?

    Mexican American artist  Eduardo J. Chaidez and Indian American artist Uji Venkat in a conversation prompted by Eduardo's recent works. 

    AgainstModernity
    'Against Modernity' (Oil on Canvas)

    Uji: I am most interested in your portrayal of this young armed child. The photographic, pixelated appearance of this painting has undertones of pop art while it is also a portrait of historical significance. I’m not sure if that is the meaning that you wanted from your title, but I see in it the conflict between modernity and tradition. Can you share the historical context of this particular piece?

    Eduardo: Thanks for your question.

    The historical context is the Mexican Revolution (about 1910-20). Porfirio Diaz' 7-term presidency, which was actually a dictatorship,  from 1876-1911, favored foreign investments and markets over native autonomy. The driving force seemed to be the appeasement of foreign markets through commodification of natural resources and who controlled those resources in order to gain prosperity at the cost of a cheap and exploitative labor force.

     

    zapata
    'Tierra y libertad' (Oil on Canvas)

    Mexico underwent a revolution in order to remove Diaz' dictatorial administration that favored foreign investment and trade. The inclination to enter the global economy to rise to prominence left Mexico precariously dependent on the whims of overseas demand.  The expanding global competition meant that more exports needed to be made and be competitively priced.  This led to the aggressive acquisition of land from rural communities in order to create more cash crops.  Cheap labor by peasants maximized profits for the wealthy elite.  Often this work force ended up laboring on land they once owned, leading to obvious tensions in the Southern parts of Mexico. In the North, laborers such as mine workers were abused and paid less than their foreign counterparts. These tensions exploded into a bloody revolution. In the end, in spite of the revolution, proper and just land reform was never attained. The new government eventually monopolized the natural resources, yet the country remained deeply divided by class and income disparity.

    The transformation of land into commodity through free or inexpensive labor in order to satisfy a globalized economy gave the ruling elite greedy ambitions for wealth. Porfirio Diaz’ dictatorship planted so many cash crops that people couldn’t even grow their own food on land that they no longer owned.  This dependency on export secured Mexico’s role on the world stage. Vast amounts of natural wealth lay within Mexico's borders - yet the country remained incredibly poor.

    assata
    'Assata' (Oil on Canvas)

    Many of these issues could also be said of Mexico currently as well and this history is one that is familiar to many other countries of the Global South. I think your read is interesting and spot on in terms of the conflict between modernity and tradition. This notion of Modernity as progress is one that contains a dark underside of exploitation and abuse that I feel like my art grapples with in one way or another.

    Uji: Thank you for the thorough explanation! I agree that there is a common misconception that modernization implies progress. I saw it first in India, also a poverty-stricken nation led by a corrupt government, as the rich built massive enterprises and became richer at the expense of the vast majority. However, I now see a growing discord between modernization, mainly in technology, with social progress in the US. Your work addresses social commentary that is universally valid in this day and age.

    Growing up in the US, I did not know this much about the Mexican Revolution, as it wasn’t taught in my history classes. But seeing as you were also born here in the US, what sparked your interest in studying Mexico’s history?

    NationalAnthem
    'National Anthem' (Oil on Canvas)

    I completely relate to the idea of being seen as an outsider in your own country. I hold American citizenship by birth, speak English without an accent, celebrate all of this country's national holidays, and support the US in the Olympics but somehow it is always the color of my skin that indicates my identity. Nationality is masked by race. I’ve had difficulty with my country not owning me in return. I appreciate that you have embraced your cultural and racial backgrounds instead of veering away from them as a consequence of this struggle.

    Eduardo:   I appreciate the questions! Studying Mexico's history was sparked for the very reason that it isn't taught in history classes, as you point out about your educational experience. Conversely, someone might argue that it's not possible to teach every nation's history, or that maybe that's not a priority in US education. But I think that a response evades the notion of History as a narrative and/or erasure. Do we learn about the brutality of colonization and its legacies on First Nations peoples? We somehow begin at the 13 colonies and how they were founded by these noble men, but never do we talk about them as owners of enslaved Africans. Issues such as these are buried and the notion of progress is espoused creating this idea that these atrocities were necessary and/or justifiable and just not that important.

    indigena
    'Indígena' (Oil on Canvas)

    Being a first generation Mexican-American was really confusing in this context. I actually internalized a lot of hate about myself as a kid because I picked up on the fact that I was treated differently because of the color of my skin. I think in part this is reflective of the value our society, and by extension our education, places on who and what is normative. Central to my work has always been this dynamic of personal and collective histories.

    Ironically, it was through education, when I was much older, where I eventually learned in depth about other histories. Because I wasn't taught them I had to go looking for them. I took courses in US History and Mexican and Latin American (M/LAT) studies in community college and I also majored in Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley (along with Practice of Art).

    Uji: I agree with you that even the history that we do study of other nations, as it relates to the United States, is from a skewed point of view. It is interesting the light in which history is painted based on varying perceptions. The US and other countries share the same history but the recordings are different as they are colored by the varying perspectives of the events.

    eduardoI love that you have chosen to explore the other side, the side that wasn’t readily presented to you. The notion of progress that you cite is clear in your art as well as your writing; I can see that you want the errors of the past to surface so we are not doomed to repeat history.

     

    Eduardo J. Chaidez holds a B.A. in 'Ethnic Studies' and 'Art Practice' from UC Berkeley, and he is currently a Master of Arts candidate in Visual and Critical Studies at School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

     

    Uji Venkat is an artist who holds a B.A. in Biology from Reed College, Portland. She devoted two years teaching Math in public school in Dumas, Arkansas, with the 'Teach for America' program. She now lives and works in the Bay Area.
  • Is the art world divided along class lines? Call to a conversation/collaboration

    Hi all fellow artists!

    I’m a Master’s degree student in Fine Arts in Belgium and I’m very interested in social mobility in the art world. I come from a traditional working class family where my parents didn’t go to college but made their living by doing manual labor in my small hometown in Finland.

    I’ve learned that this is very unusual when I chat with my fellow art students and academic artists about their backgrounds. Well appreciated artists exhibiting their works in institutionalized museums seem to come from academic families too, and it looks like the social mobility is very tiny when it comes to the art industry. Which is of course a shame.

    This also leads to the situation that I feel like I have two identities: my old background identity with the working class, but now these people see me as a snobby smarty pants who has studied art — and on the other hand I don’t feel like I fully belong to the academic art world either, as I can’t recognize the difference between a wine glass and a champagne glass and would prefer a beer in a can anyways. The feeling of otherness is strong.

    Is there any other artists on this community who share a similar background and are dealing with the same questions? Would be interesting to talk with you and who knows, maybe we can come up with a collaboration project idea, a new artist collective or what not.

    Best wishes,

    Tuomas

    Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium

    • Hi there Toumas, My name is Lawrence...I am a Digital Media Artist from South Africa and I can relate to the type of situation you find yourself in as I also come from a humble background in which art has never been taken seriously, having to transition into the small community that recognizes and sees art in a different way.

      I have always found that I didn't belong in both worlds because I viewed things differently from what they do, but over time I have found that that's what actually works best because seeing things from the perspective of the 'other' often translates into my work and my different experiences with people has helped me gain a better understanding of just how and what people think about certain things.

      I believe that the whole idea behind social mobility into the more institutionalized structures is based on a certain validation felt towards them. I feel that instead, it should be the other way around where society is more accommodating to the notion of being different simply because we have different perspectives, views, experiences...which is what inspires my work mostly.

       

    • I made a short film called BoundLess Society: Discovering Contemporary Art where I discuss my (along with other artists) views on what we think about the social constructs in the art world, please do check it out when you get the chance.

       

    • Buenos días Tuomas,

      Soy Yassine Chouati, comparto contigo ese sentimiento desarraigo y desorientación identitaria. En mi caso como artista de origen marroquí expatriado en Europa se traduce en  sentirse ajeno al mundo, desorientado, como un niño abandonado, un sentimiento que experimentamos todos los que abandonamos nuestros países de origen para vivir tras otras fronteras. Cuando la pregunta ¿de dónde eres? se repite tanto; cuando te esfuerzas en identificarte para evitar entrar en detalles o cuando te conviertes en turista en el país de tu infancia, en un extraño, donde nadie te reconoce, nadie te espera, nada es igual, la familia, los recuerdos, el acento, la actitud; cuando te esfuerzas en hablar con el acento de la tierra, sin confusión lingüística; o cuando estando ya asentado en tu país de adopción te llaman inmigrante, “moro”, “negrata” o, en el mejor de los casos, cuando te dicen “vosotros sois...” la pregunta que me planteo a menudo es ¿nosotros quiénes somos? Los marroquíes, los senegaleses, los sirios, los chinos, los nigerianos, los mexicanos, los peruanos, etc. ¿Quiénes somos? Este es el sentir que experimento a diario como artista expatriado en Europa. Procedente de Tánger, la ciudad que más sufrió las consecuencias de los Años de Plomo del régimen de Hassan II, me vi forzado a abandonar mi país debido a la precaria situación socio-económica y a la falta de derechos tan básicos como el de la libertad de expresión.

      Por último quiero expresarte mi interés en colaborar contigo , sabiendo que estamos trabajando  el tema de las  identidad paralelas, desarraigo y desorientación desde diferentes puntos de vista.

      Un cordial Saludo

      Yassine

      Web personal: https://yassinechouati.com/

       

      English Translation:

      Good morning Tuomas,


      I am Yassine Chouati, I share with you that feeling of uprooting and disorientation of identity. In my case as an expatriate Moroccan artist in Europe it translates into feeling alien to the world, disoriented, like an abandoned child, a feeling that we experienced as people who left our countries of origin to live behind other frontiers. When the question, 'where are you from?' is repeated so much; When you try to identify yourself to avoid going into details or when you become a tourist in the country of your childhood, a stranger, where no one recognizes you, no one expects you, nothing is the same, family, memories, accent, attitude; When you strive to speak with the accent of the earth, without linguistic confusion; Or when you are already settled in your country of adoption, they call you an immigrant, "moro", "negrata" or, at best, when you say "you are ..." the question I often ask is "who are we?" The Moroccans, the Senegalese, the Syrians, the Chinese, the Nigerians, the Mexicans, the Peruvians, etc. Who are we?

      This is the feeling I experience every day as an expatriate artist in Europe. Coming from Tangier, the city that suffered most from the Hassan II regime's Lead Years, I was forced to leave my country because of the precarious socio-economic situation and the lack of basic rights such as freedom of expression.
      Finally I want to express my interest in collaborating with you, knowing that we are working on the theme of parallel identity, uprooting and disorientation from different points of view.


      A cordial greeting,

      Yassine

      Personal Website: https://yassinechouati.com/

    • Hi Tuomas.

      I draw, paint, and dabble in intaglio printmaking. Like you, I often feel out of place in the art world. However, I do come from an academic background, only it was not centered in the arts. I come from a family of teachers and engineers. I was raised to value math and hard sciences. To this day, I have a degree in biology and work in technology. Art always had to be secondary, a hobby. I often feel that I don’t fit into the academic art world because I only recently began educating myself in art, its practices, and its history. It was just a few months ago that I called myself an artist for the first time.

      I feel like an outsider in my day to day job because my heart is not in the work that I do. I don’t have a technical background. I have a math mind and am trying my level best to apply it practically to my job but I thrive where there is creation and design.

      I understand what you mean about not quite belonging to either world. But perhaps that is what makes our opinions that much more valuable. We have different insights than the traditionally educated as well as varying life experiences to extract from and apply.

      Art is inherently subjective and we often think that our works don’t qualify us in the realm of “artists.” But considered by who? Based on what principles? Perhaps we don’t fit into the established norm, but isn’t that the art has the most to say?

      Historically, academics have established what art is because of opportunity. At one point arts were a luxury. I, myself, was told as a child that it was an extravagance that was superseded by pragmatism and necessity. The working class was just not as present in the art world in previous generations. It has that opportunity now.

      The current norm will also not always be the norm. It is subject to change. Radicalism only allows it to grow whether from a work itself or its response. Art can be the most accepting world depending on our viewpoint.

      Looking forward to continuing the conversation,

      Uji

    • Hi Tuomas

      I certainly think that art is divided along class lines, the are families who have introduced their children to art from an early age, and it is like a custom to attend gallery exhibitions, talks and theaters etc.

      In South Africa my experience is academic class had their own functions and understanding of art as a medium of practice and would encourage their children to participate if willing.

      Sophiatown in Gauteng was the place where one saw a boom of art practitioners before the force removals of the 1950s. Most popular was singing and acting, which was more accessible to the people who didn't neccessarily come form academic backgrounds. Painters and other artist who were working weren't much recognized by the larger communities beside where they lived

      In the townships, after the removals we also had our own theaters and art practitioners, the difference is the education and knowledge of art as a medium of practice was not excised and promoted to being a career. It always seen as a past time activity

      Only recently we have a galleries in the township, and we are seeing the same boom of Sophiatown days happen again. In my case my family was working class, They were not aware that i could chose photography as a career and practice it, i was told i would only photography people on the streets and make lousy money, so i had to prove myself within my own family and teach them that there is more to it.

      Where as i study with other kids who went to art school form high school and they already had an idea of t what the art industry entails, so i think although a shift is happening, the division still exist. Now my struggle is teaching my family and surrounding neighbors  the importance of collecting art and archiving it,  in contrast to the academic families who have had an understanding of this concept from an early age.

      Thanks

      Nathi

    • Hi Tuomas and everyone else!

      Just thought I’d include my point of view to the conversation as well because it is very interesting to see how similar our perspectives are regardless of our different backgrounds and experiences.

      I chose to study art as a passion. Growing up art was the only thing that I liked to do and it still is. Then as I got older I had to concentrate more on school because it is what my family expected of me, so I pushed away from Art for a while to focus on academics. Luckily I was able to study it in the University, but not until my third year because of lack of space in the classes.

      I completely agree that you do fall into this kind of limbo of whom you are perceived as, instead of who you actually are in the art world and society in general. I used to hear 'what are you gonna do with that Degree?' all the time from both sides of the spectrum (Familiar and Academic) and to be honest, I can say that I am still figuring it out. 

      Seeing the way that the establishment of School and Art systems work (not only individually but in relation to one another as well), I have come to learn that I really don’t want to have to fit into a space where I don’t feel comfortable, so I aspire to imagine and carve out my own, where others who feel like I do can find that same comfort that I am currently still seeking.

      Social structure is interesting in all of this because art has been seen as a ‘leisure’ or ‘commodity’ considering that IT TAKES TIME AND MONEY, which many people who are in the working class do not have enough of. Not only that, but there is also knowledge and resources (or lack-there-of) that never reach some communities/people because they are too busy working or have no idea they exist. For example, I didn’t know Art High School’s existed until I was already studying at the University and there was no way for my parents or siblings to know either because there was really no time to do so from what I saw growing up. It’s almost like there was no choice, especially considering things like funding for schools.

      So you are getting hit from both sides: family trying to pay bills and schools not being able to provide either (but not by choice). Where I am from, there was a lot of lack of money for resources and materials from Elementary School to High School; when that happens, the first thing to go is Art - every time. That shows you how little importance is put on something that is so crucial to learning not only about the world, but about ones-self, too.  I only took one art class during my whole childhood, and that was in my last year of high school (which was coincidentally the only year they offered that art class and the teacher struggled to keep it from being canceled the whole semester). 

      Coming from a world that is developing faster than it should be, it is very common for people to bring up the fact that art is supposedly 'not where it’s at’ (not lucrative) because of all of the advances in technology that are pushing people further from hands-on work to computer/tech based work; that if you want to do well you have to have a corporate office job or go into business, but that is only perception of ‘success’.

      I am personally still working and developing (slowly but surely) as an artist to show people that it is possible to make a career out of your passion; you just have to work actively to make it a reality. After observing and reflecting on my own experiences ‘in the art world' I still don’t feel that it is the space for me, socially or academically, so I really don’t want to learn how to work it, or go by its rules. I want to make something that is my own, in collaboration with others to be able to teach communities about the importance of art in our lives, not only about what established individuals consider to be good art. I want to encourage the ‘other’ to empower themselves through the Art itself and then share their perspectives so that others can learn from them, too.

      We are now living in such a fast-paced world that people think that if they don’t get with the program they will fall behind. But we always have to remember that quality takes time… 

      I hope you are all doing well, talk to you soon and thank you so much for sharing your stories!

      -- Victoria Ayala

  • Teaching art to kids in a remote Indian village | Final episode

    Responses to Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ and to the Surrealists’ paintings, together with some great lessons on how to introduce art to young people.

    [Read Episode 1 and Episode 2 in the same 'Convesations' page of the website]

     

    18In order to draw all grades students’ attention to bright and vibrant colors I decided to focus on Van Gogh’s work. The idea was to introduce the painter and some of his works, to teach them about his techniques, and then to try a hand-on practice of those techniques, using their own emotional intensity while painting. I chose ‘Starry Night’, one of his most famous paintings, distributed some prints, and asked them to  follow any one of these two options:

    paint the same composition of ‘Starry Night’, although with their own style of brush strokes, or  create their own composition, but using the same thick and broken brush strokes as Van Gogh did in the painting.

    It seems to me that each work has a stunning balance of composition. I still don’t understand how they got those perfect balanced composition. What I feel is that when a blank paper is given to a kid, together with some materials to draw or paint on it, he or she become  the master of that sheet of paper, and more responsible to dominate that blankness. Maybe that’s when they bring out their creative side.starrynight

     

    Another project was on Surrealism. I explained Surrealism as an artistic as well as philosophical movement that focused on dreams and the subconscious mind, rather than on logical thinking, as a way to find truth. I shared with the students the works of surrealist artists like Joan Miro, Salvador Dali, GIorgio De Chirico and Rene Magritte.
    They particularly loved the works by Dali and Magritte, maybe because of the use of realism to show the subconscious 26I shared with them the knowledge of simple landscapes, compositional elements such as foreground, background and middle ground. Students begun by participating in a discussion of the imagery found in one of Dali’s painting. They were encouraged to give their own interpretation of the imagery while pointing out any device that was used to make the image surreal. Students were asking questions, like  “How does Dali make it clear that these were representations of subconscious images?”  “Is the use of realism important in conveying mood?”  as well as questions about what elements they might include in their works, etc.

    This exercise must have been challenging. It has compelled me to realize how young adolescents understood and vividly represented what the surrealist artists disguised and hid in “absurdity”. Your  students really showed the pain and human suffering. They teach us how to see what we avoid to see…

    Each and every project we did came up with new dimensions. The bold vibrant use of color, the emotional outbursts while recreating starry night, the confident brush strokes while recreating Patachitra, the absurdity of imagination while creating the subconscious can only come out from a child’s mind. 24If we look at the project on surrealism we can see that each and every work has a different story to tell. I realized that every student tried to understand the idea of the subconscious and the method to dig up surreal images.

    I am curious about how you balanced the information about Eastern and Western history of art? How did this information, above all that regarding new techniques, stimulate or affect the students’ initial visual knowledge?

    As I joined  the school, I was initially asked to structure the entire art syllabus for the academic year. After communicating closely with the students, I discovered that introducing another subject, namely art history, was going to put an extra burden on an already intense curriculum. I noticed their highly regulated routine, and I didn’t want to introduce myself as an another art history teacher.

    surreal

     

    I thought that rather than introduce them to the vast chronological history of both Western and Eastern art  in terms of styles and historical, geographical features, I should introduce a little free space, away from their regular routine. I wanted to set our class not to be ruled by the demonic figure of “Knowledge”, descending “from me to them”, but to provoke, and generate amusement and curiosity “from them to me”. 31As an introduction to art and to what art is, my goal became to introduce them to the varieties of visual arts, their nature and differences, their strength of expressiveness, and their the language of freedom.

    I wanted the students  to get glimpses of different achievements in the history of visual arts in a way that would be accessible and could  fit their own language of expression, to be curious about each and every art movements rather than imposing on them heavy art history books. My pedagogical strategy was to find the order and balance through their curiosity and the hunger for knowledge.

    Since their knowledge of visual art was very narrow according to the standards set by the Indian academic colonial past, their concept of art was based on only one scheme or style. 28The traditional art forms of their culture are still not considered art, but rather ritualistic, cultural religious practices. My first task was therefore to break that notion by introducing various artistic styles from different times and places.

    The initial reaction of many students was “Is this also art?” and “Can art be made like this?”  This gave them enough encouragement and confidence to be creative. The courage they got was to explore other ways, without worrying about preset notions of British academic art. Those, for example, who feared to play with colours because their association with British naturalistic landscapes oil paintings, got a lot of encouragement by the raw use of colour of Van Gogh, or the playfulness of colour dots by Seurat.  As everybody knows, every child is born with creative impulses; each new technique, therefore, and each new visual language, provoke their creative intuitions.

    32
    Pallavi's students at work in the classroom

    I know that probably none of my student will become a professional artist. Some will be doctors, or lawyers, philosophers or teachers, or any other profession, but some training on the great stories in the history of visual art can change their perspective, make them better viewers and more concerned individual.

  • Making a big difference in a small town | Yelapa, Mexico

    How an inspiring art teacher has introduced art in the life of a Mexican small town teenagers, opening up for them a world of possibilities.

     

    IMG_4524
    Nadya painting with student Alondra, February 2017

    Yelapa is a small town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico, just south of Puerto Vallarta. An agricultural and fishermen town, it is now growing also as a tourist destination.  Nadya Delgado Zepeda has been the young art teacher in the local high school, 45 students in all, for the past four years. She is passionate about introducing her students to making art, be it drawing, painting, music or performance, and she has helped several of them to continue studying art in college, both in Mexico and in the US.

    On a weekend in February she and her students staged an art exhibition of their works in the low key/high style resort ‘Yelapa Oasis’, a group of cabanas by the river, renown for its annual croquet tournament, which was in fact in full swing.  The perfect weekend for selling drawings and water-colours to the tourists, to raise money for the art program of the school.

    Here she and one of her former student are in conversation with EAS. (English version below)

    ¿Qué te trajo aquí a enseñar arte en una escuela secundaria en Yelapa?

    Nadya: Nunca pensé que iba a dedicarme a ser maestra, pero se dio la oportunidad que alguien me invitara a formar parte de la preparatoria aquí en Yelapa y decidí venirme. Comenzó siendo una experiencia fantástica desde el principio. Es mi primera vez como maestra y creo que es mi profesión ser maestra. No tengo una formación como artista, pero creo que la vida y mis padres me han formado como artista desde pequeña.

    IMG_4528
    "Unidos por el Arte", poster for the February 2017 exhibition

    Comencé con un pequeño taller dentro de la escuela una hora a la semana y posteriormente decidí que hasta tenía que ser más grande porque vi mucho talento en los jóvenes de Yelapa. Entonces hice un taller por las mañanas con los jóvenes que les interesaba a aprender un poco de pintura y ahora tenemos ya 3 años con ese taller.

    Parece que todos tus estudiantes están muy entusiasmados con tu clase. ¿Cuál es tu enfoque pedagógico?

    Nadya: Lo que trato de enseñarle a ellos principalmente es que tengan amor al arte; que puedan conocer lo sublime, lo sensible, que puedan experimentar ese lado artístico que tiene cada ser humano. Yo trato de que puedan entender que no solamente hay carreras cómo abogado o cómo ingenieros, doctores. Creo que [arte] es lo más valioso que tenemos ahora en este mundo porque hay mucha crueldad y hay mucha violencia y entre mas creemos arte mas sensibles de corazón nos vamos a hacer.

    ¿Qué te inspira como artista, y qué te inspira cuando le enseñas arte a tus estudiantes?

    Nadya: Me gusta mucho la historia del arte. Amo la historia del arte de Europa y principalmente mi época favorita es el Renacimiento, y me gustan bastante los artistas como Leonardo Buonarroti, Da Vinci, y Donatello. Porque fue una lucha encontrada entre la religión y el pensamiento del ser humano donde la religión quería imponer su forma de pensar. Entonces el hombre se dio cuenta que también tenia razonamiento y comenzó a expresar a través de sus ideas y sus sentimientos lo que pensaban en esa época.

    IMG_4498
    'Otomi' by Nadya Delgado

    Lo que yo trato de comunicar con los estudiantes es que aprecien la naturaleza que tenemos; los arboles, el mar, las aves, que comiencen a disfrutar el mundo que tenemos que es hermoso y mas en esta comunidad de Yelapa que tenemos todo natural. No tenemos autos, solamente son 1,500 personas las que viven aquí.

    Y lo que más me interesa que aprendan es que no necesitan vivir en una ciudad para poder sobresalir. Que ellos saben que pueden salir adelante, no porque vengan de un lugar muy pequeño no quieran hacer nada. Ellos tienen que sobresalir y pueden hacer lo que ellos quieran.

    Uno de mis estudiantes, Enddy Rodrigo Aguirre, estuvo decidido a estudiar artes plásticas y lo conseguimos con la ayuda de un patrocinador; ahora el está estudiando en Canadá. Está estudiando el tercer año de preparatoria nuevamente y a sido aceptado a la Universidad de California. Yo estoy muy orgullosa de él. Ahora Alfredo está decidido y esta estudiando fotografía. Tengo otro alumno Luis Mario que le gusta mucho la fotografía es bailarín, y es pintor. Y va a enfocarse también en la universidad a estudiar danza o fotografía. Alondra también quiere estudiar fotografía y pintura. Entonces se está descubriendo mas el lado artístico de los jóvenes de aquí de Yelapa.

    Alfredo, eras estudiante en la preparatoria de Yelapa y ahora estudias arte y fotografía en la Universidad de Guadalajara. ¿Cuál fue tu experiencia con Nadya?

    IMG_4510
    'Croquet' winning artwork for 2017 Croquet Tournament by Alfredo Rodriguez

    Duré seis meses en el taller con Nadya porque siempre estaba lleno el taller. Yo siempre tenía la curiosidad de experimentar sobre la pintura, pero nunca tuve la oportunidad. cuando ella llego a la escuela era como otra cosa. La escuela cambio totalmente, porque todo era tan estricto. Cuando Nadya llegó todo fue más relajado, ella traía otra energía otra vibra, entonces todos querían estar en el taller. Ella fue la chispa que le dio a la escuela.

    Este fue el momento que me dio la oportunidad de hacer arte como siempre quise. El taller empezó y fue genial, estar con Nadya es muy increíble, es una persona maravillosa.

    Estamos interesados en el labor que haces, en la manera que empleas los símbolos de otras culturas, como de India.

    Alfredo: Desde el año pasado me interesé por los mandalas al ver las composiciones que se creaban en una sola imagen, entonces comencé a investigar sobre que eran, y qué sentido tenía dibujar eso, y pues a lo que encontré fue que tenían un sentido de relajación interior, una paz, y que eran como una meditación.

    Empecé creando patrones simples, después unos mas complejos.

    Busqué mas imágenes para ver diferentes ejemplos. Entonces, de ahí fue de donde creció esto de la mandala hacia mi, para poder crearlo. Y pues es un poco divertido y entretenido realmente porque te pasas mucho tiempo -- es mucha dedicación. Pero a la hora que termina es algo increíble.

    IMG_4499
    'Desamor' by Nadya Delgado

     

    Nadya Delgado Zepeda estudió Psicología en la Universidad de Guadalajara en el campus de Puerto Vallarta, y ha estado enseñando arte en la preparatoria de Yelapa durante los últimos tres años.
    Alfredo Rodriguez es ahora estudiante de primer año en la Universidad de Guadalajara, en el campus de Puerto Vallarta. Se concentra en Fotografía y Artes Plásticas.

     


    English Translation:

    What brought you here to teach art at a high school in Yelapa?

    I never thought I was going to dedicate myself to being a teacher, but I was given the opportunity when someone invited me to be part of the school here in Yelapa, and I decided to accept. It was my first time as a teacher, and a fantastic experience from the beginning. Teaching has become my call. I did not have a training as an artist, but I think that life and my parents, who are artists, have molded me as an artist since I was a child.

    I started here with a small workshop one hour a week, but soon it was clear that it had to be a larger class because many students wanted to participate. So I did workshops in the mornings with all those who were interested in painting and we have had them for three years.

    It seems that all your students are enthusiastic about your class. What is your pedagogical approach?

    IMG_4506
    Exhibition of works by students of the Yelapa school, Oasis resort, February 2017

    The main thing I try to teach them is to love art, to recognize the sensibility, the sublime, to perceive the artistic side present in each human being, to get to know their emotional side. I am trying to tell them that there are not only careers as lawyers or engineers, or doctors. Art is the most valuable thing we have now in this world. There is a lot of cruelty, a lot of violence, and the more we create art, the more sensible we are going to become.

    What inspires you as an artist, and what inspires you when you teach art to your high school students?

    I really like the history of art. I love the history of European art. My favorite time is the Renaissance, and artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Donatello. Why the Renaissance? Because it was a time of struggle between a humanistic and a religious view of the world. The religion view was imposing its way of thinking, but people started to realize that they were also capable of reasoning, and began to express their ideas and feelings, especially in art.

    What I try to convey to my students is the appreciation of nature around us: the trees, the sea, the birds; the enjoyment of the world we have, which is beautiful, and more so in this community of Yelapa, where everything is still natural. We do not have cars, only 1,500 people live here.

    IMG_4504
    Exhibition of works by students of the Yelapa school, Oasis resort, February 2017

    What I want my students to learn more than anything is that they do not need to live in a city to excel, don’t need to give up or feel disadvantaged because they are from such a small town. They can excel and they can do whatever they want.
    One of my students, Enddy Rodrigo Aguirre, determined to study plastic arts, is now in his third year of high school in Canada, thanks to the help from a sponsor, and he has been accepted to study art at the University of California. I am so proud of him. Another student, Alfredo, is now studying photography at the University of Guadalajara. Luis Mario is a dancer, a painter, and likes photography as well, and will move on to college to study dance or photography. Alondra also wants to study photography and painting. The artistic side and the talent of the young people here in Yelapa is finally being discovered.

    Alfredo, You were a student in the high school here in Yelapa, and are now studying art and photography at the University of Guadalajara. What was you experience with Nadya?

    IMG_2502
    Nadya and her students exhibiting their works at the Yelapa Oasis resort in 2016

    I was in the workshop with Nadya only for six months, because her classes were always full. I had always had the curiosity to experiment with painting, drawing, photography, but never had the chance. When Nadya arrived at the school, things changed completely. Everything was very strict before, very constrained, but when she arrived things started to relax. She brought a different energy, a different vibe. Since then, everyone wanted to attend the art workshops. She brought a spark to the school.

    This was the moment I finally had the chance to fulfill my desire to do art. The workshop started and it was something great. Nadya is a special person, and being in her workshop was an incredible experience.

    I am intrigued by the fact that in your work you employ patterns from other cultures, in particular from India.

    Since last year I became interested in the patterns of the Indian mandalas. I was fascinated by the compositions that were created in a single image. I started to research about what they are, and also what sense it had for me to draw them, and what I found was that they expressed inner relaxation, peace, they are like a meditation.

    I started drawing very simple patterns, then slightly more complex. I began to do more research, to see more images. That is how my interest for the mandala grew, when I started to be able to create them. It is really entertaining, because you spend a lot of time on it – it requires a lot of dedication. But at the end of the day, what you have is incredible.

    IMG_4568
    From left to right: Camila Estefania Gradilla Esparza, Luis Mario Tovar, Nadya Delgado, Alfredo Rodriguez, Alondra Jazmín Machaen Ramos

    Nadya Delgado Zepeda
    studied Psychology at the University of Guadalajara on the campus of Puerto Vallarta, and has been teaching art in the high school of Yelapa for the past three years. 
    Alfredo Rodriguez is now a first year student at the University of Guadalajara, on the campus of Puerto Vallarta. He concentrates in Photography and Plastic Arts.

     

  • Teaching art to kids in a remote Indian village | Part 2

    On de-constructing and re-constructing 'Mona Lisa', de-contextualising works of art, and cross cultural influences in the global world. Pallavi Das, from Kolkata, in conversation with Paola Loomis, from San Francisco.

     

    Another eye catching project was on Leonardo da Vinci’s  ‘Mona Lisa’. Being one of the most famous artworks in history, I thought my students could easily connect with this work, as they were already somehow familiar with it. My objective here was to introduce the art of the European Renaissance, but then to let the students have a hand-on experience by recreating a famous work in their own visual language. I cut out the face and hand from colored prints of ‘Monalisa’ for each of them, and asked them to recreate the costume and the background.

    Drawings and collages created by Pallavi’s students around prints of ‘Mona Lisa’s face and hands

     

     In this project you have new and impressive images, realized by giving new backgrounds to one of the most cliché faces in art. How can we read the new portraits? Do they tell us something about what changes through encountering a different culture? 8Is “she” the same woman and are “we” the same men and women when moving among different cultures, different times, different spaces?

    Ahh, with these questions you push me towards art theory and theorisation, which is what I was afraid to step in. As an artist, I feel my job is to create an empty sign, a visual object with a void inside that provokes the beholder to fill it with their own associations, thoughts, imagination. Isn't it the case? A successful art has always an open ended aspect that does not allow us to reach the vanishing point of its meaning. I think that this is the mysterious ingredient of true art. I think that theorizing about art appears after the existence of the art object in question as a hypothesis, an interpretation.

    So, let me encounter your questions with trembling thoughts about the images produced by the students:

    Following Walter Benjamin, I claim that the prints of Monalisa have already lost the demonic aura of the historic painting, and they allow us to recreate and manipulate them more freely. And when, in order to get more freedom, I cut out her face and hands, I decontextualized it from its origin. These fragments of Monalisa have already loosen visual space, time and context all together. 11So, through this surgical technique we have begun to subtract all the visual elements that constitute the historical identity of the work. Now her identity appear as free floating, ready to be reconstructed and cast for new roles.

    We have in fact deconstructed the Monalisa. No, she is no more the same Monalisa, as she was methodically erased from her surroundings which were replaced by cultural and visual vocabularies belonging to the students.  As you can see here, Monalisa has been reimagined with popular East Asian imagery, as well as with the students’ associations with comics, cartoons and contemporary pop culture, like the one who reconstructed Monalisa as the Korean viral video 'Oppa Gangnam Style', after discovering  the similitude between the famous dance step and the hand gesture of Monalisa.

    One can point out that after erasing the background of the famous Da Vincian perspective, most of the students came up with rather flat and graphical backdrops, I guess because of their associations with calendar art and posters.

    The empty space around ‘Mona Lisa’ provided your students with an important opportunity to freely express themselves within that space. These interesting works prove that this is a successful way to introduce art to young people.

    14What if we turned this around and presented the same exercise to young students in Italy? With their hyper-familiarity with the image of ‘Mona Lisa' and Leonardo da Vinci, they certainly would not react with the freedom of your students. It is a great issue to explore within the frame of intercultural art...

    These are very interesting points to investigate for a cultural theorist or an art theorist, searching for details to examine their cultural influences, visual interferences and so on. I feel that it is impossible to identify an original culture with strong boundaries. Cultures develop with influences from other cultures. And in this globalized world, it is becoming harder to find original, distinctive cultural traits, especially when we are talking about art. I also feel that it depends on the beholder distance from the art object.

    I am curious now about how you perceive  these portraits, since you are far from this land. We have seen that various prominent Indian artists have been recognized or criticized from both East and West with weird confusion.

    The movie 'Pather Panchali (Song of the Road)', which was the first masterpiece by Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest Indian film directors, dealt with this same dilemma. In the West, it was considered too slow, and ambiguous with its eastern regional anecdotes, whereas in the East it was criticized for being too realistic (too close to ugly mundane life), more akin to the western style.

    Even Rabindranath Tagore's paintings faced similar reactions: they were admired in the West for their eastern originality, and criticized in the East because of a strong western influence.  Being an artist, I rather enjoy this void that art is capable of to initiate the dialogue on cultural identity, visual meaning and entire new narratives.

    monalisas

     

    to be continued...Stay tuned for the next and last episode!

     

    • Pallavi, I’m enamored of your philosophy on teaching. You have so effectively embraced and captured the voices of your students. You have created a space for them to explore their creativity as opposed to squelching it, as we often do in demanding that students conform to a formal and traditional curriculum. I’m very interested in where you started, as an artist before you began teaching.

      I understand your perspective that art is an empty vessel to fill with the viewer’s personal connections, but I wonder how you avoid putting yourself in your work entirely. Is your art always created to illicit a response from the viewer? As an artist myself, I often use art as therapy, release, or an outlet for my own emotion?

      You say that, “theorizing about art appears after the existence of the art object in question as a hypothesis, an interpretation.” Does your art speak to you more after is complete? Do you get to interact with it as a viewer?

  • Teaching art to kids in a remote Indian village

    Kolkata artist Pallavi Das shares here her experience teaching art to young students at the Manjushri Public School, in the Indian state of Sikkim. Rather than following the traditional art history curriculum, she wanted to create a 'free space' where the kids could participate and freely interact with the artists of the past, with Indian  folk art as well as with iconic Western works. 

    Paola Loomis, in San Francisco, joins in with some questions.

    unnamedpallaviwork

    Sikkim is a small Indian state surrounded by the Himalayan range, and bordered by Nepal, China, Bhutan, and the state of West Bengal. It is considered to be the last to give up its monarchy and integrated to India in 1975.

     

    UnknownA residential school, the Manjushri Public School was founded in a small valley called Temi Tarku.  This school pushed the border of the standard educational system to create an alternative space, far from the urban society. Being in a valley, surrounded by hills, it was almost an isolated place. Communication with the world around was quite difficult. Newspapers and the internet could be accessed only once a while. Because of this limited accessibility to the media, the school focused more on the faculty and the students physical relationship with the world. It replaced the use of electronic media with reading books, gardening, learning music, and performance art.

    tib-bud
    Traditional hand painted Thangka

    Each and every student was responsible for cleaning and organizing the school compound and the surroundings. Here I was asked to participate in the school mission to restructure the pedagogy of the visual arts.

    In this remote location, visual art was only known through the traditional religious Buddhist painting called 'Thangka'. My objective was to introduce some of the norms and forms of world art which I found is neglected in the Indian school education system. My challenge was not only to inform the students about both the world and Indian art history,and  but also to let them physically absorb the varieties of style, and to understand history through a playful manipulation of famous artworks. I chose not to follow the chronology of art history but to start instead with the students’ own visual knowledge.

    In my first class, with junior students, I started with prehistoric art as the first discovery of visual art. Informing them about Bhimbedka cave and Altamira cave paintings, I explained the use of colors in prehistory and the different assumptions behind creating those. Then I asked them to freely choose a subject they liked and paint it on different surfaces (paper, cardboard, stones).

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    Drawings created by the students inspired by cave paintings

     

    After mingling up with the middle grade students, I observed that they were familiar with visual narratives of comic strips. I came up with the idea of introducing  them to “Patachitra”, the traditional visual narratives of rural Bengal. "Patachitra" are scroll paintings which visually narrate religious epic story. Interestingly, the rural artisans perform each story by singing out loud and revealing each scene by scrolling down the pat. These paintings traditionally use bright vibrant colors and bold black outlines.

    pallaviScrolls
    A 'Patachitra' created by a students group

    I shared with them the history of "Patachitra", and then invite them to sit in a group and think of a story. Some of the group members had to plan and write the story plot, and some had to start painting each scene, using bright vibrant color and outlining them with bold black outline. At last they were asked to narrate their stories visually scrolling down each scene and vocally narrating their stories keeping the same essence of patachitra.

     

    If texts are part of the work, is it possible to read some of the stories they wrote?

    In the tradition of “Patachitra”, texts are not part of this art form. Rather than texts, they are closer to the performances. In the traditional style, the Patuas (the artists of Patachitra) paint the entire narrative on the scrolls and then roll them up. Then they compose the narrative in the form of a folk ballad, a poem, or just a story. When they gather their viewers they sang, recite, or just tell the story while unveiling the scroll scene after scene. You can call it the predecessor folk format of modern day film.

    So, I'm afraid that there is no text or script. The artists have to perform the story orally as they unveil their Patachitra (scroll with paintings) scene by scene. It is a performance that go along with the visual.

    to be continued...Stay tuned for the next episode!

    Pallavi Das from Emergent Art Space on Vimeo.

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