Thursday, November 16, 2006

¡Cultiva la Vida! Muraling in San Pablo

Within the painting work I’ve done with the JEM, I’ve been thinking about various muraling processes and have experimented with different techniques. Some projects are more collaborative than others, depending on the focus, be it process or product.

From January to April I worked with a group of teenagers in Cunlaj, where we developed drawings and painting about Hurricane Stan and then created a community mural to remember the experience and bring hope for the future. Each week we discussed various issues regarding Stan, and by the time we were ready to paint in public each participant had created a final painting. I helped design the mural using their drawings, but my role was mainly limited to mixing paint and giving advice. I did little painting, and there was a large sense of ownership in the work. Some days the painters arrived at 5 AM.

In El Vergel in September, I had a one-day workshop with the 5th and 6th grade classes, and at home I used their drawings and my own to design the 60-foot mural. The kids helped me during the nine days of painting, but I was the main artist doing the piece. The school kids and community members were thrilled about the mural as a product, and it was a very successful short collaboration. But it didn’t create the same ownership as in Cunlaj since we didn’t focus on a long-term and in-depth process.

My intention in San Pablo, where the mural you see here was created, was to re-create a similar experience I had in Cunlaj, but with kids. Once a week for three months I worked in the elementary school in San Pablo, giving painting classes to the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classes. The product of these classes was to be a mural. Since these were kids I had to design and coordinate the content of the mural, but I planned on using exclusively their drawings and paintings to create it. I had the fourth-grade classes draw and paint animals, the fifth-graders birds, and the sixth-graders designed and painted trees. The kids democratically voted on their favorites and then worked in groups to paint them on large poster board and develop the images even further. From these I designed what you see here, with the exact drawings of the kids painted onto the wall.

Collaboration is about learning and I learned, for the 50th time, that communication is the most essential element of working together. I started working in the school in San Pablo at the end of the school year and didn’t anticipate the flurry of exams and odd schedules that complicated my classes and the planning of the mural. A lack of communication on both my part and that of the school director left me starting the mural the last day of classes. The kids were excited and thrilled to be painting once they left their classrooms giddy and filled with energy, ready for the vacation months. I thought it was going to be a perfect time to have each child fill in their drawing, but I quickly learned that when there’s no school there’s no reason to come to town. The next day and for many days after a few stragglers came and went, but by and by the mural was left with large white spaces where the kids hadn’t arrived to paint in their drawings. The few participants that lived in the center begged to finish the works of others, but I was intent on saving them for their original designers. During graduation I hoped kids would come back to town and remember the mural, but few extras came to help out. We did have an exhibition of the paintings on graduation day, and the community was able to see the bright paintings and creative work of the students. In the end about 20 of the 60 kids came to paint the mural, and I was forced to finish it two weeks later with Ian and a handful of children and teenagers.

This was is an example of where the process was thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding, with many weeks of classes and positive interaction, but the product was left behind and lost in the collaboration. I couldn’t help wishing that we hadn’t created the mural, since I wasn’t interested in copying and painting the kids’ drawing myself, and instead would have preferred (if I had known I was going to be working mainly by myself) to have created a better product since in this case the product didn’t add to the process.

But all experiences help cultivate our lives, and I know that the mural was an exciting activity for those that participated. Some kids were thrilled to see their own work translated onto the wall and exclaimed proudly to their parents and friends, That’s my bird! or I painted that tree!


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