The Escola Municipal Maria Leonor Pereira da
Silva faces a busy street near one of the three comunidades (favelas) where
many of the students come from. Except for the official state sign indicating
there was a school there it was hard to tell. We had work to do. On the first
day there, I met with our teacher and administrator counterparts, Rosalba,
Dulce, and Sabrina. They were energetic, welcoming and forgiving of my lack of
Portuguese. They had also dreamed of a mural for their building for along time.
For us to make a collaborative artwork that is
imbued with meaning, beauty and reflects our individual voices while responding
to the many audiences that will see it, requires that we know each other and
the place we are working – even in a short process like this. So to begin
we shared stories in a circle. Each person got a turn (including the grown-ups)
without interruption or questions to respond to the day’s prompt. In Vitória,
we started with ice cream – there are so many delicious flavors here. We went
around with the morning group of teens and learned this first thing about each
other. It is simple, but even a simple question like this elicits laughs,
memories and new connections between those who discover they share favorite
flavors. Everyday after we began with a similar circle and a different prompt,
the final one being, what have we forgotten / what’s missing from our mural?
There is always more to be done.
Then I gave a presentation, showing pictures of
my murals and sharing some of the stories behind them. Karen followed doing a
remarkable job of describing her role and the overall concept of the project,
which would focus on the idea of social inclusion and shared values between
Brasil and the U.S. Roger (who said, “I’m not a translator. How did Karen get
me into this?”) did a great job of translating not only the words I spoke but
also my sense of emotion and pacing. Those stories, I say, are just as
important as the murals, and in a way our mural will be a key or touchstone to
unlocking the memories of the time we spend together. I end my presentation
with a picture of the wall of the school we will be painting. The group gasps
and says, “ahh.”
We took a break, walked outside onto the busy
hot sidewalk and examined our wall – what it looks like, feels like, how tall
and long it is, and what painting or writing already exists on it?
A couple of the students pointed up toward the
comunidade on the hill. That’s where they live, and Gustavo (a very promising
young artist) says he can even see the mural wall from his house. The
excitement builds, but also a sense of responsibility and awareness that there
is hard work ahead. We talked about our expectations for each other and the
mural. I wondered about my role as an outsider from far away – a white guy from
the U.S. leading a group of mostly black students from Brasil on a mural about
social inclusion. I am accountable to them and need to ensure their message is
portrayed the way they want.
The next day, I began by sharing a quote that
is on the wall in the biblioteca of the school, “To unite is a good beginning,
to keep the union is progress, and to work together is victory.” We agreed,
this describes us and our project.
With the older group, I proposed - You are
traveling to the future 20 years from now to see yourself. What are you doing?
Where are you? How do you feel? In pairs, they interview each other about these
visions. I asked, if you were to hold a tool that symbolized that future
vision, what would it be? They drew each other holding these tools. At the end
of the drawing sessions, we presented to each other describing our ideas and
The younger (8-10 year olds) group suggested
that the rocks that protrude from the long wall look like windows or doorways.
I asked in return, if you were to make a key to open one of those windows, what
would it look like and what would be on the other side? That’s enough to
get their wheels turning.
At the end of our day, we shake snacks out of
the star fruit tree that grows in the middle of the school.
That evening I took a taxi to the Centro
neighborhood where Karen had curated an exhibition at the Mucane
African Heritage Museum of photos about her trip to Juarez, Mexico
with other women artists in 2013. I got meet some of them. We talked about the
U. S. Mexico border and the tragedies of Juarez. Karen’s group, Feminem, went to make art on the streets that
affirmed the rights of women and condemned the brutal violence. The show and
the short documentary that went with it were tough and beautiful.
Later in the week, I was invited to give short
talk and participate in a conversation about urban art. We met in the Centro at
a beautiful old building. The group that came was diverse and included a museum
curator, an established street artist Fredone,
father and young son, travelling poet and others. Our wide ranging chat touched
on the story of the street artist Blu painting over his work in Bologna, and the
similarities (and differences) between Brasil and Kansas (mostly about
|Roger, Dave and Karen|
Lunch breaks together with Roger, Karen and
guests were times to talk about what was happening in Brasil nationally and in
Vitória locally. I began to understand that the current situation and protests
it has spawned are much more complicated than I realized. One other
great side trip was seeing the collective workshop where women make the clay
pots called Panelas used for cooking Moqueca
Capixaba, the delicious and celebrated seafood dish from Espírito
On our third day, I gave another presentation.
This one is focused on artists who inspire me and who also are connected to the
themes in our design. We looked at the works of Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence,
Kerry James Marshall and Kara Walker among others. The students noticed that
they were all African-American artists.
Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, I told the
short version of St. Patrick (with the snakes) and then asked about what cultural
festivals and civic rituals they participated in here. We made our last series
of drawings around this question. After school we primed the wall and everyone
wanted to help. It went quickly. In fact, I think the whole school would have
been painted in a few hours if we provided the paint.
That evening I completed our collective design
in my hotel room, incorporating elements from their drawings and ideas, so it
would be ready to share in the morning and get feedback. For the big smooth
wall, I combined all of the drawings that depicted the student’s hands holding
the tools of their futures. They move in unison toward the school entrance,
strong and emboldened, as waves of sound and color inspire them onward. The
longer wall with the protruding rocks will be painted in a decorative pattern
at first and later each rock will get one of the “Keys” designed by the younger
half of the mural team.
While the young muralistas worked on color
studies, Karen and I transferred the design using the old school method of
squaring up from a grid. We invited the students out in small groups to have a
turn at it too. And we all cashed in our favors with the rain gods to please,
please not have it rain during the next four days. Amazingly, and going against
most forecast predictions, it didn’t and so painting began!
The first painting day was a Saturday. I got
there at 8 am to start mixing colors (I am the bartender or barista of paint I
tell the team). Despite the heat, 30-40 people showed up, including most of the
students plus parents, friends and relatives. A big group set up chairs in the
shade to watch. Passersby were curious and stopped. Muito bom! and
Parabens! are what we heard most.
On Sunday the mural really started to take
shape. A dedicated crew of painters worked hard from 9 to 12 when we stopped so
a bunch of us could go get authentic Moqueca Capixaba on the other side
of the Island, followed by a great tour of street art in old Vitória led by
Karen. The final two days of painting focused on a smaller crew, including a
few of the most committed students plus Roger, Karen and Athena from Meridian
who probably hadn’t packed for painting…
|Principle Rosalba Tovar|
Tuesday morning was our mural (tentatively
titled, “ To Work Together is Victory”) dedication breakfast. Many special
guests came and gave speeches including the Secretario da
Cultura for Espírito Santo. Gifts and hugs were exchanged. A tv
channel did interviews with many of the students. We all agreed that this was
only a beginning. After all, there was paint leftover, plenty of walls and
newly trained muralistas with lots of ideas. And then, just like that I was on
my way to Rio.
I am grateful to all of the students, teachers
and administrators of Escola Municipal Maria Leonor Pereira da Silva for their
extra effort in making this project a success. Special thanks to: Karen, Roger,
Carla, Beata, Fernanda and Athena. And... check out the great video documentary about our Vitória project here.
Next up...working with artists from Oi Kabum! in Rio on an installation about the Summer