Two Murals

Published
Barbuda will Survive Mural

Today was interesting! We headed out to the Holy Trinity Primary school at about 9:30 in the morning to begin the mural there. Nicollete, Tiffany, and Yara came along to help. We had presented the mural idea to the principal and teachers the day before and they seemed enthusiastic.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The idea had sound elements to it, but with so many variables it was hard to tell if it would work as planned.  The idea was to have the students trace each other on the wall. The figures would overlap. We would have the students pick a color and fill in their silhouette. We would have the students choose a word that represents “Hope for Barbuda in the face of Climate Change” to them and fill it in their silhouette. Where the figures overlap, we would help them blend the colors.  The hope was for vaguely Keith Harring-like vibrant energy. The fear is that the “chalk outline” would refer to crime scenes more than we expected.

We procured school chalk from a few teachers and began organizing the effort. The students were not immediately aware of the word “silhouette” so we explained as “like your shadow” and they were on board. The teachers helped us gather up a team of 6th grade students—initially too many! We had about 9 of them.  We choreographed the idea, having them pose against the wall and then look at the photograph. One of the students did a handstand that we unfortunately were unable to capture. When they set the poses, they traced each other out.

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The shapes were great! We expected awkwardness but the energy and vitality the students embedded in the marks were not expected! It immediately looked fun!  We then moved down the grade levels, gathering up some from each. We asked 4 of the 6th grade girls to be our “helper team” and they had no problem running the show.  By the time we got to the 2nd grade students, we had about 25 onlookers watching the process. As the kids got younger and the figures filled up the wall, the helper team took to composing and directing the gestures they displayed. We made it all the way to the kindergarten students.

After they completed the chalk outlines, we asked the helper team if they would give an interview about the project efforts for the day. They were quite proud and eager to talk, saying many things like “Well, we are the future, the old people are going away.” They also responded without hesitation to a question about the power of art.  We left the chalk outlines for a few hours until the school let out, returning with a few students to commit the chalk marks to primer paint.

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Some interesting things to note:

When we first were brainstorming the idea, it felt like an individualized project. The student to shadow relationship would be one to one. This was not the case. Each shadow figure was a collaboration of many. The mural became a collaboration as a part of the process and not simply merely as a by-product.

The lines took on a musicality—the scene looks like a dance party. The energy of the children translated to the energy on the marks on the wall immediately.


 

We also made significant progress on the Barbuda Mural at the Barbuda Research Complex. Two more students joined today. One student joined after a morning conversation with his mother. He was from the alternative high school for troubled or behind youth. I didn’t know one existed on the island. His mother recognized his interest in art. The other was a student I had worked with last time, but she did not join the previous mural work.

They both jumped right in for several hours of productive yet extremely silent work. At one point the girl student put on headphones and just carried on singing to herself.  When she started working, she took one look at the pencils I offered her and shook her head. She opened her bag and selected several pencils that were entirely more appropriate for the task at hand and gave them to us! That made me happy, as I don’t quite recall that awareness of materials when working with her last year.

Again we were working on the grid—getting the letters right is crucial for this design. We were still early on enough to allow for mistakes, so I let them make mistakes and then pointed them out and asked them to fix them. I think that is an important way to learn the grid system. Since the working session was so silent, the learning through doing and observing was forefront. At one point the boy was standing behind me and watching me use the pencil to measure angles and points. I would then repeat it and point out what I was doing for emphasis.

I had to run out for erasers for the male student. He seemed more comfortable with the ability to erase. It was a small lesson for me in the difficulties of material acquisition on the island. We went to three separate locations, only to find tiny pinky sized erasers in a bowl in a small school supply store.

It was a great feeling to leave the students working on the mural. When I returned, the two from yesterday had also joined.  Happy to say that they pretty much fixed the middle B that I was working on before I left.


In the evening time, the field students gave draft presentations of their work. One of the benefits during the chaos of the field school—being around all these smart folks.  It’s also nice that Bamma has joined us for a few evening sessions. The work with him is moving along, and we still hope to get the song recorded and the video shot before next week.

 

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By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx