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Creating Home & Place Through Public Art

October 1, 2016

Just this morning, justseeds artist Jess X. Snow & public artist, Lunar New Year lead a free community public art and mural workshop at Urban Word’s annual Preemptive Education Conference at New York University. The conference had an the exciting theme: “We Gon’ Be Alright: Radical Joy & Self Love in Times of Black Lives Matter”. The conference workshops lead by everyone today engaged in arts-based pedagogy, social justice education and culturally responsive teaching. The conference was driven by this line from a Lucille Clifton poem:

come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

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We talked to a lively room of young educators and youth organizers about how collaborative murals are a window to a future of healing in a world that is constantly trying to break us apart. It’s hard to put into words the richness of the beautiful conversations we had today, but I wanted to share these things:

  • A mural is a public portal into the future we want to see. A future where migrant and indigenous and youth from black and brown and colored communities can see their own stories represented in the streets and then feel empowered to one day create their own. In this way mural making is a form of time travel. Through youth education, we can create a doorway into a dream & future that has not happened yet.
  • This radical future will be resisted.  Those in control of the media and ads we see on buildings, and the streets will constantly try to silence visions deemed “too radical” for public art. During the workshop, Keith Miller, a Black arts educator from Savannah, Georgia talked about a mural project designed by group of youth where they were told by community members to lighten the skin tones and add white people to their design. In response, the youth were empowered by their own collective decision to refuse these suggestions and sought their own alternative way to bring their design to life.  This lead to a conversation about legality versus illegality in public art. We talked about how when a society’s laws no longer represent the diverse needs of our spirits, they must be broken. Murals, whether legal or illegal, are a way where we can paint publicly the truth that our society desperately tries to conceal.
  •  Empowering girls, queer youth, and people of color from under-represented communities to take up spaces on city walls is revolutionary. Public art is an extremely white and male-dominated field. Murals created by people of color, by woman of color, for our own communities forces passerby to look and remember that we built these streets, live and dream amongst these neighborhoods & this is also our home.  Through a pedagogy of inclusion in the mural development, design and production process from beginning to end, youth feel a strong sense of ownership toward the final product.

Towards the end of the workshop, after learning about eachothers homes and backgrounds we lead a group activity where participants traced each others shadows and traced projections of new icons for a mural design. We talked about how the process of mural designs can begin anywhere, in this workshop, at home, in a conversation amongst friends, and can easily be gridded and can be projected on to walls in order to transform them into a massive scale.

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PAST PROJECT: We Always Had Wings, Los Angeles

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Above is a mural project that Jess X. Chen did in collaboration with Immediate Justice and 15 high school aged migrant girls in downtown Los Angeles. The girls spray painted their own portraits for the first time to be memorialized forever on to their own school’s wall. Above their portraits soars the Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, an endangered species of bird that migrates from Latin America to California and back every year, following a similar migration journey as the girls. Read more about the experience in this LA Times Article.  This project was sponsored by the Center For Biological Diversity’s Endangered Species Mural Project with help from Justseeds artist, Roger Peet.

PAST PROJECT: The More We Share, The More We Grow, Hamilton Heights, NYC

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This community youth mural project in Hamilton Heights, was facilitated Lunar New Year as part of Creative Artworks NYC. In Lenny’s words: “This collaborative mural is titled “the more we share, the more we grow” and the section that is visible above comes from an experience, during the development phase of the mural, when she shared mint and lavender with our group at her home garden down the block. this simple gentle gesture of neighborly kindness led our group to design a mural based on generational change, educational growth and community building in the face of migration and gentrification.”

Over the years, the youth we’ve worked with have been the ones who have taught us what spaces we can reclaim with trust in our collaboration and a paintbrush.

Thank you to the young arts educators we worked with today for your presence and paving way toward a world where generations that follow can feel empowered to take their stories to the stage and to the streets.

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If you’re interested in booking Jess X. Snow and Lunar New Year for a workshop or a community mural project at your school, organization or back yard feel free to contact us at jess@jessxchen.com

Culture & MediaEcology & AnimalsEducationEnvironment & ClimateFeminisms & GenderGlobal SolidarityInspirationMigrationRacial Justice

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