8 | 11 |16
by ANJA NOTANJA SIEGER
My AWE assistants and I kept pressing the kids for a specific topic that we would then create art about. “How about racism, water rights, pollution or immigration reform?” They wanted none of that: “We want to create something that will make people smile and take pictures of themselves with.” There is an expectation these days for all community art projects to be about specific social or environmental justice concerns. Like if it isn’t obviously depicted you are doing something frivolously privileged and harmful to the city, specifically beauty for beauty’s sake = inevitable gentrification and further class and racial divisions. But don’t we all deserve having some art in our neighborhood that just makes us smile rather than demanding that we knit the eyebrows to get the full lecture?
And then it happened.
Keeping the worldly concerns away from the class we focused instead on pattern making,
specifically tessellations. Tessellations are geometrically designed to be infinitely repeated so as to fit into itself in every direction. The kids got into it, and when it came time to transfer our project to painting on cement boards it was suggested by my brilliant assistant Terry Spears that we create a sort of “square tessellation mandala.”
To be a professional artist you must get used to feeling uncomfortable and spontaneously plopped inside a foreign land with cultural expectations and rituals that you have never heard of before. The things you do for money and the things you do for passion constantly divide and collide. A few months ago I found myself dumped inside a classroom swarming with middle schoolers from Hayes Bilingual School, a language barrier, and a palpable inferiority complex (since my college major was called “Making Intricate Handmade Books All By Yourself In An Attic With No Windows and No Door,” not Education).
This was a public art class arranged through Artists Working In Education (AWE) where the kids were supposed to be the ones to come up with a project relating to a topic of their own choosing and whether we were going to make a sculpture, mural, projection, or installation.
And like most projects that expect to be about nothing in particular, once it is made, it develops a very clear meaning, a lesson of significance, you just don’t have to try so hard to whack people on the head with it before it’s made…
No two tessellations are the same just as no two humans are the same. Yet, when given a set
of unifying guidelines tessellations can fit together side by side, just as people can. The
participating kids at Hayes Bilingual school each designed their own tessellation to be added to this mural. This quilt-like scene of color united the teachers and students over a language barrier and reminds us that no matter where in the Americas you might have originally come from, the power of art and community can bring us together to create beauty and understanding in a complexly mystifying world.