“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us.”  – Hasan Davi

“Art is not a part of life, it is not an addition to life, it is the essence of those pieces of us that make us fulfilled. That give us hope. That give us dreams and provide the world a view very different than what it would have been without us.” – Hasan Davi

Afrofututrism-Part 1, A New Lens By Which to See, Inspired by Cyrus Kabiru

This Spring as a school, we focused on elevating Black Joy, Excellence, and Culture through living folx throughout the African diaspora. And while this is a project that we engaged in from February through beginning of April, Black Joy is intended to be a provocation for continued expansive teaching practice and curriculum development at School Within School as a core principle.

 

Super Heroes inspired by Artist Hebru Brantley By Ava, age 5 “My super power is spreading LOVE!!!!!!!”

In the Atelier, Black Lives Matter at School is 24/7, through expression, art, culture, movements, and making. The narrow expanse historically of art, art institutions, and art education has centered white male Eurocentric artists, with a handful of women and BIPOC thrown in during their designated cultural months.

I dare say it is easy to scrap the white supremacist model of art education because there are limitless and boundless histories, cultures, and BIPOC and women artists to center to inspire young children (and ourselves) to express and transform power, beauty, and aesthetic.

Inspired by an art exhibit I visited in Barcelona 5 years ago “Making Africa”, and as the Early Childhood Atelierista (working virtually yet live with the children), I centered our Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation projects around Afrofuturism.

Part 1 was inspired by Cyrus Kabiru.

From the essay Afrofuturism Has Always Looked Forward: How can the ideology serve as a blueprint for cultural growth? by Taylor Crumpton:

“For the uninitiated, Afrofuturism is a fluid ideology shaped by generations of artists, musicians, scholars, and activists whose aim is to reconstruct “Blackness” in the culture. Reflected in the life and works of such figures as Octavia Butler, Sojourner Truth, Sun Ra, and Janelle Monáe, Afrofuturism is a cultural blueprint to guide society. The term was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 but birthed in the minds of enslaved Africans who prayed for their lives and the lives of their descendants along the horrific Middle Passage. The first Afrofuturists envisioned a society free from the bondages of oppression — both physical and social. Afrofuturism imagines a future void of white supremacist thought and the structures that violently oppressed Black communities. Afrofuturism evaluates the past and future to create better conditions for the present generation of Black people through the use of technology, often presented through art, music, and literature.”

We began by being inspired by the vision and genius of Cyrus Kabiru.

The 3 to 6 year old children were spellbound listening to and watching Cyrus speak and create Making Wearables Through E-Waste.

“I grew up surrounded by a lot of trash,” says Cyrus Kabiru of his childhood. “The biggest dumpsite in Nairobi was right opposite my house. I used to tell my dad, ‘When I grow up I’ll give trash a second chance.’ I used to feel like trash also needs a chance to live.”

After looking at Mr. Kabiru’s glasses ( C-Stunners, as he calls them), glasses no one had ever imagined before, I explained how he is called an Afrofuturist. He is an artist from Kenya who creates art that no one in the world has ever seen before, he creates by making a new and better future, where trash is given a second chance. All of his C-Stunners also tell a story. Each one is different. He is a creative genius.

“To me, being an Afrofuturist is a mix of creativity from different continents.” •

His increasing success in the art world has afforded Kabiru the opportunity to travel and to expand his collection of found objects. •

He says: “When I go to London, I’ll pick up trash. I always pick up trash from different continents. If I make an artwork with European trash, my work will look newer, so I try to combine old Kenyan trash and new European trash.”

This was a project we returned to for many weeks. This returning is to practice depth, as opposed to a make-it take-it crafting hour. Each class we re-visted Mr. Kabiru through looking at his art and watching and listening to him speak to us through videos. As children constructed, an Afrofuturism playlist that I created of SunRa, Janelle Monet, Laura Mvula, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kamasi Washington, Eryka Badu, Valerie June and more played. The sensory and delight of the creative process was compelling to observe. The music helped keep track of time and guide children into a state of flow.

I could see into all the squares on the Teams Meeting where children were experimenting, constructing, and creating, all while centering the Afrofuturist ideals of Cyrus Kabiru.

 

Cyrus Kabiru, Mixed Media Art

We did multi-modal language shifting by using our sculptures as a provocation for mixed media 2d collage art (as Cyrus Kabiru also uses photography and mixed media collage to express his stories.)

All of this project work is happening during a global pandemic. This is relevant. There is no doubt that each child and adult has experienced trauma, loss, and abrupt change. Because trauma is experienced inwardly, with no words to express,(especially if you are 3-6- years old) the act of making and creating in an open-ended and expansive manner allows one to process (often unconsciously) pain or anxiety. The brain shifts and creates new passageways during making. When these neurological passageways shift, you are released from the biological and emotional effects of fight, flight, or freeze. Expression through the arts releases and heals emotionally and neurologically.

Right now, in the newspaper is the unrelenting horror of the details of the murder of Mr George Floyd. What strikes one, is the fact that the police officer who kneeled on the neck of Mr Floyd and killed him ceased to see his humanity. What strikes one, is the fact that a trial is even necessary when the world witnessed his tragic death via a cell phone video. What strikes one, is those who watched who had the power to stop another Black man, another human being, from being killed just watched. The othering and dehumanizing of Black and Brown children and adults hails from the transatlantic slave trade. It is enmeshed in all of our systems, including our education systems. We are raised in the subtle and the obvious ways that creates internalized hatred of BIPOC.

We are all, within our capacity able to create, demand, imagine, and act in a way that centers Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and dismantles white supremacy culture. For me it is as a mother, artist, educator, and activist.

As children gazed at the beauty and genius of Cyrus Kabiru, valuing his existence, we are reminded of the importance of our our daily work. Especially with our youngest citizens.

“Why do we care about what the Afrofuturist has to say? And why would we suspect that their answers would differ from that of an average futurist? It is because the Black experience is defined by a historical struggle for existence, the right to live, to be considered a person, to be afforded basic rights, in pursuit of (political, social, economic) equality. Because of this, the Afrofuturist can see the parts of the present and future that reside in the status quo’s blind spots.”

From the article “How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend”, by C. Brandon Ogbunu

Our paths co-constructing Afrofuturist thinking and making in the Atelier/Art Studio led us next to The Black Indians of New Orleans, The Super Heroes of Hebru Brantley, and The Quilters of Gee’s Bend. The journey of learning and thinking as an Afrofuturist makes visible Black Joy, Excellence, and Innovation intrinsically. It goes on and on. Like the C-Stunners of Cyrus Kabiru, Afrofuturism offers us all a new lens by which to see, especially in the blind spots.

“People speak different languages, because that’s how they are made.” Remy, age 5

“People speak different languages, because that’s how they are made.” Remy, age 5

Wow, it has been a looooong time since I last blogged.

I will start from today though, from now, November 12th, 2020.

And right now, I can share that it is not only possible to connect and create virtually with 3-6 year old humans in the Atelier, it is meaningful, compassionate, and inspiring.

There is still opening and closing rituals, music, stories, provocations, and just like being in person, there is sustained time where there is a flow of constructing, experimenting, and expressing (with music flowing and me, not talking.) And there is still Reggio Inspired Projects and the possibilities of expressing understandings in 100 Languages.

We began the school year with the provocation of Monarch butterflies and as they emerged and began their migration to Michoacán, Mexico, we moved from local to global. We moved from the simplicity that all living things migrate to the complexities of human migration.

Here is some documentation to connect you to the rigor, depth, and joy of our weekly one hour Atelier LIVE with Ms McLean.

To end this post, I leave you with a link and a quote.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is an extraordinary Mexican artist who uses technologies to create art about human connection. In 2019, I took both PreK classes to his interactive exhibit that connected human heartbeats and fingerprints to beautiful pulsing lights and waves. It was transformative.

He recently creating mind blowing art interactions at the US/Mexican border.

If you have 17 minutes to spare, watching this video by Art 21, Rafael Lozano Hemmer “Borderlands” will surely move you. I hope it will also give you perspective on the importance of the thinking and doing that children manifest in the Atelier. Children, in fact, imagined, like Hemmer, ways to connect people, despite the complexities of pandemics or borders.

Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on the Importance of Telling Complex, Nuanced  Border Stories - The Texas Observer
Hemmer’s installation allowed people in both Juarez and El Paso communicate by manipulating and crossing search lights and speaking into microphones that worked as a sound tunnel.

What Hemmer has imagined and created is not so different than Delilah or Aliya, both in PreK4

“There is art on the ground on both sides of the wall, and people can talk about it through the tunnel.” Delilah

“”I made a big chair in the Middle of the wall so the kids from both countries can sit together to talk or read books. Kids holding hands together and dancing I also draw a tree house with a balloon and a big bear.”  Aliya B., PreK4

Delilah
Aliya, PreK4

The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers.”
— James Baldwin

I hope you will engage through leaving comments, wonderings, or connections below. In gratitude.

And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.

And say simply, Very simply, With hope, Good morning.

What questions are we asking children?

In what ways are we listening to children?

How does the 100 Languages of Children facilitate deeper and
more meaningful expression and responses?

Why does it matter?

What can we learn?

As we embrace a new school year, the most important thing to
feel, see, and create is engagement.

Relationship.

Love.

Children and adults whose faces light up when they interact,

An environment filled with provocations that delight,
intrigue, and expand possibilities,

Values made visible in words, images, and actions that
proclaim that all are welcome here

Tools and practice in spreading kindness and compassion,
even when it is difficult

Rich opportunities for delving deep and expressing ideas,
concepts, and understandings.

We have a ritual, a tradition at SWS called Kindness Day.

On September 11th, we experienced 9/11 as a
school community.

 Since
then, we created and celebrate Kindness Day.

Our active enduring question is, “How can we
spread Kindness?”

This year, the Monarch butterflies, who routinely lay their eggs on our school Milkweed did not arrive. I’ve heard it was due to some cold summer weeks in the Northeast. While it turns out, it did not negatively affect the migration, it did affect my start of the school year. My Atelier curriculum for the Fall was based on the Monarch rescue, transformation, and migration, starting right after Kindness Day and leading up to Solstice! So, I threw myself into Kindness Day hoping the Monarchs still might arrive.

 

 

 

Each child makes a Kindness Rock as a gift for another child (they do not know in advance who it will be for!) to exchange on 9/11. And a second one that is left out in the DC metro sometime during the school year area to spread Kindness to a stranger.

 

 

 

Every classroom reads Have You Filled a Bucket Today? This conceptually plants the idea that each and every one of us is responsible for caring for those around us, as opposed to bucket dippers, who themselves have an emptiness and so try to fill up their own bucket by taking from others.

Here is a link to explain the origins of this beautiful and pivotal SWS experience.

On the day of 9/11 every child walks under the arch of teachers holding hands and singing. This year it was, Put a Little Love in your Heart. Together as an entire school, we reflect and share , sing, and then go out to exchange the small hand made gifts.

 

 

 

We practice how to introduce yourself, and how to give and receive.

Be it the story of the Phoenix, 9/11, or the myriad of injustices and pain that surrounds and often includes us, there is within the human capacity, the audacity to develop, teach, and grow the lens to see, honor, celebrate, and practice kindness.

Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

The butterflies did not appear despite every day combing the
Milkweed leaves. Kindness day was beautiful. However, I had to quickly recreate
curriculum as expansive and exhilarating as metamorphosis!

I decided to enter into a project that I have been researching since the 1990’s; anti bias education and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

My intuitive sense led me to start with developing deep
connection. Engagement means feeling safe to be brave, vulnerable, and
connected.

 

 

 

“It’s the Tokyo Tower! I can’t believe it! It’s amazing!” Sora, age 3

If we are to share personal stories, we need to do it in a space we feel cared for, not judged. We need to be loved for who we are.

There are Atelier Rituals you might not be aware of. The first thing children do before they even enter the Studio is they are invited to take up to 10 jumps on the trampoline and meet on the rug. Once all are on the rug, my hands make a beat on my legs and I look every child in the eye and sing, I’m so glad you’re here today, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad ___________ is here, I’m glad ____________ is here, I’m glad______________ is here, until all have been seen and sung to.

Even if someone is having an off or sad day, these small and intentional actions allow a child to switch, to activate (or deactivate) and enter into a the space with their body, mind, and heart open.

To facilitate an intimacy of sharing and making, the book “My Heart Fills with Happiness?” was read in the Atelier with small groups as a provocation for using wonderful new art materials and expression.

 “International speaker and award-winning author Monique Gray Smith wrote My Heart Fills with Happiness to support the wellness of Indigenous children and families, and to encourage young children to reflect on what makes them happy.”

My eyes
often filled with tears as children shared these small glorious moments that
give joy to their lives. Our conversations of smells that fill our heart with
happiness included Soba noodles, banana bread, syrup, hash browns, bacon,
cookies, apple pie, soup, pizza, birthday cake, and even broccoli!

Home is such a visceral and grounding place. These conversations celebrated and made visible how breaking bread truly creates a sense of togetherness and stability.

“Time spent” was a common thread, be it at the beach, playing, or taking a walk. Not one child said their heart filled with happiness when they were bought something. Each and every recollection was about the preciousness of just being together. This included friends, grandparents, pets, siblings, and parents.

Just seeing the face of their loved one, being held, hugged, kissed, and just showing up. Our children are speaking to us. Are we meeting their eyes with our own during these moments? As the children spoke, their eyes were bright, and their faces glowed as they spoke. They painted with passion, intensity, and a sense purpose.

Sharing
these moments became like little blessings. As one child shared, the others
(and me!) would join in or add to the conversation. We might all be living in
different homes in different types of families, but the enduring beliefs of
what filled their hearts with happiness was the same.

As children painted and used materials, they
became closer to reliving that moment.

When you feel like you haven’t given your child (or any child you have a relationship with) enough, just take a breath and read these responses, and remember, they innately know what matters.

Our next journey (Prek and Kgn) was inspired by the book All are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Suzanne Kaufman. This  picture book has a call and response cadence and rhyming verses that allowed the children to “sing” the book with me.

The vocabulary is rich, so for 3 studio sessions we returned to a single page and I would ask just one question from the book. Through Kindness Day we had determined and set the intention of our Community as a Kindness School. We moved on to wondering

What is diversity?

The next project was proposed.

I recently attended a DCPS Professional Development for Visual Arts and Music Teachers. It was centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

I attended a dynamic session with Living Cities entitled On the Pulse of Morning, Looking at Structural racism that Exists in Education.

The session ended with the video of Maya Angelou reciting this poem at Clinton’s inauguration.

Here are the ending verses.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage,
Need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me,
The rock, the river, the tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes,
Into your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” Falling in love with Nature (Part 2)

“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” Falling in love with Nature (Part 2)

Mama Miti Children’s Book
Watch “I will be a Hummingbird” short here.