The Reciprocal Wisdom
I love imagery, photos, sound. Art.
This blogging thing is difficult for me.
I wish sometimes that others could just understand what I’m creating or doing, imagining, or thinking. I wish the intent and meaning of my work was clear without narrative sometimes.
(Liminality ll, Marla McLean 2014)
I worry, if I write about it, will I then have the energy to do it?
(Detail from Rivers, Marla McLean 2013)
Which brings me to the dilemma of not posting since APRIL!
Where do I begin again?
Is there a thread to return to?
I am deciding at this moment to start with the most current of thought and experience.
(The streets of San Miguel, 2014, MM)
I just returned from co-teaching a course, “Art & Social Justice” in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico with the
Corcoran College of Art & Design Pittman Study Abroad Program.
(Mojiganga, in front of La Parochia, San Miguel de Allende, 2014, MM)
It’s my second year of traveling with Art Ed Grad students and Art Ed Director Dr. Pamela Lawton to be immersed in the rich cultural heritage of SMA, as well as facilitate an art project in Casa Hogar Santa Julia, an orphanage/girls home.
(Here’s the Corcoran gang at the studio of Anado and Richard.
First, let me say that San Miguel de Allende is one of the most beautiful places in the world and it’s a World Heritage sight.
It is an ideal location to travel with Graduate Art Ed Students to inspire, immerse, and learn.
Despite it’s vast riches (as world-over the case may be), poverty and need still exist. Similar to the US there is a great level of income inequality.
As part of the Corcoran College of Art & Design Study Abroad Course, students are given the challenge of creating art/arts programming at Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco. (A look at life at San Miguel de Allende that is often hidden.)
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Ana Maria, 2014)
“Casa Hogar Santa Julia, founded in 2005, provides housing, education, and support to girls in need. Surrounded by the competent, caring devotion of their beloved Madres, the girls of Santa Julia are transformed into confident, educated young women.
The needs of these girls stem from the precarious circumstances of their homes of origin; but at Santa Julia, these girls are being equipped to flourish in all parts of their lives—from faith to friendships, preparing for college, and personal discipline.” From the Santa Julia website
Casa Hogar Santa Julia far exceeds our American foster care system. Girls from toddlers to 19 yearl olds are nurtured (emotionally, educationally, physically, and psychologically.) That being said, this is a hard deck of cards to be dealt. The resilience and inner beauty of these girls is fierce in the face of the hardships they deal with daily.
Loris Malaguzzi , visionary of the Reggio Emilia Pre Primary Schools in Italy really nailed it when he coined the phrase The 100 Languages of Children. This idea is that children or individuals express themselves in a multitude of (non-traditional) ways. When given the opportunity to express through many vehicles (poetic languages of the arts and sciences) and simultaneously being in the company of those who “listen” through these non-typical communications, great understandings and empathy are developed.
The Art project we presented to the teenage girls, was a photography based concept. (We spontaneously created programming for some of the younger girls, however the crux of the course/plan was working with the teens.)
It began with a slide show and talk of The History of Mexican Photography By Contemporary Photographer Pablo Ortiz Monasterio. He took the girls on a journey that ended in popular culture and connection.
We then asked the girls, in just one session to photograph, with the caneras we brought, the following ideas using these prompts:
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Katia, 2014)
In Reggio-speak these prompts are what is called a “provocation.”
Or something that provokes and generates thought, excitement, wonder, or relationship.
A good provocation is the opposite of finite. It is an interaction or idea with legs.
What happened next is almost impossible to describe.
The girls took off like a butterflies being released.
These teenage girls first went about this photo shoot cautiously, but then literally began running from place to place,
high and low,
open and hidden with a sense of urgency.
Language barriers faded as small moments of intimacy, silliness, and connection were shared because of the camera.
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Abril, 2014)
I became witness to their unspoken.
(Photo by Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Paola, 2014)
Favorite places, beauty, their personal photos/momentos, their hopes, their place of rest…
(Photo By Casa Hogar Santa Julia teen, Joanna, 2014)
When we returned the next day with contact sheets, well, I wish you could have seen the moment when we handed each girl their images.
And then we asked them to edit:
1 image for a pillow
2 images to keep.
Pam and I would choose 1 image to be in an art exhibit.
This was difficult. The girls discussed, meditated on it, were decisive, indecisive, torn. Editing is tough.
While Ben (Corcoran Graduate and our Tech in residence) was off to print. The sewing part of the project began.
Some girls experienced sewing for the first time, while others were skilled.
Beginning things can be tricky, especially when there are language barriers (none of us were bi-lingual, and our Spanish skills ranged from nothing to a 5 year old’s level!) The girls’ English skills ranged from very little to excellent. Through a mix of doing, diagrams, English, Spanish, body language, and lots of visible listening, together we became a small temporary community.
The following days were filled with communion. It is why for generations people have gathered to stitch together; in New Orleans the men gather to hand stitch elaborate Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and the women of America stitching quilts in quilting bees.
We returned the next day with the photo they had picked for their pillow on transfer paper.
After ironing onto the fabric, the moment of suspense and excitement where the image transfers…
The steady work of the hand in a circle of others for hours creates space for both conversation and silence in the presence of shared work.
We brought fabric markers so the girls could put text on their pillows, dreams or thoughts. Many chose to write in English or asked for translations. The words were quite astounding.
(The pillow reads: My Dream is to be a good sister.)
(The pillow reads, Always Smiling at Life, Thank you God)
(Her pillow speaks of loving her 3 siblings)
This is also, why, in the context of the Reggio-inspired Atelier, children work in small groups. It creates a circle of familiarity and trust, a repeated gathering where the making is the vehicle for complex relationships.
(The many uses of pillow stuffing)
In the case of the girls at Santa Julia, their relationships already exist. Our small group of Corcoran students and staff were there to offer another language, another experience, an interaction, a provocation, and an opportunity to facilitate an exchange through the arts.
This year, for the first time, Pamela Lawton and I chose one image for each girl to be exhibited in Gallery 13, at La Fabrica de Aurora.
Here are some of the images we selected for this exhibition:
While we, the Corcoran engaged in this “service,” it is always ambiguous as to who in fact benefits most from these small moments.
I contend that while we gave the girls this opportunity, it was in fact, ourselves who received the greatest gifts.
The girls, knowing we were there for just a short time took the greatest risks.
By sharing their space and place, and engaging us gringos (who by the way, spoke Spanish at the level of a 5 year old at best!) they communicated great integrity, creativity, and gratitude.
Self Portrait By Silvia
I think perhaps this is true of teaching, universally. Yes, teachers work tirelessly and endlessly to develop, create, facilitate, and fight for the rights of children. However it is the reciprocal wisdom that the teacher receives from the student (sometimes in indirect ways that you don’t even realize in the moment) that makes life full, meaningful, and worth living.
If one can access through reflection the gifts received, well, that is the secret and art to persevering in teaching (and life itself.)
The exhibit is up through November 2nd.
In gratitude to:
Veronique and Bob Pittman, who make the Pittman Study Abroad Program in Mexico through the Corcoran possible.
Robert Devers, Director of Corcoran Study Abroad Programs for his incredible planning, organization, and support.
Dr. Pamela Lawton, Director of Art Education at The Corcoran, Partner in crime.
Pablo Ortiz Monasterio, Photographer/collaborator. He truly helped us rethink this project while in the planning stages, and provoked us to both broaden and edit our plans. He also gave an exceptional lecture to the girls at Santa Julia.
The incredible women of Casa Hogar Santa Julia-Don Bosco:
Barbara Rueda, Madre Lidia, Arcelia Chávez, all the Madres who greeted and smiled and made us feel welcome!
The Grad students: Amanda, Christine, Judybeth, Lauren, who participated in this course with gusto.
The Santa Julia girls who participated in our programming with gusto.
Ben Granderson, who printed and formatted all the images, and also volunteered.
LaMar and Mara, for volunteering.