Saturday, November 26, 2022

Community Mural Workshop


It’s certainly the most perfect spot for a workshop, the new Lead-up base in Finca la Azotea (Jocotenango, Guatemala). It’s an oasis of peace and soothing greens, especially after cycling through heavy traffic on the busy streets of Antigua. Fourteen adolescents got together for my workshop on how to create a community mural. Some are high-school students from Los Patojos with an interest in the arts, there were a few Lead-up champions and some who are already established artists themselves, such as Samuel, Chiripa and Denilson of Urban HeArT.

Although the workshop was on how to create a community mural, we left the artistic part aside and focused on what is maybe the hardest part: how to turn your mural project into a true collaborative work of art. We started with strategies to define the people who benefit from the project and their interests and/or issues within their community. Once the target group and their wishes are established, we can focus on the theme. A lot of the issues that will come up during this phase will be negative ones, such as violence, contamination, poverty, corruption or domestic abuse. If such an issue will be the theme of the mural, the challenge will be to turn it into a constructive and positive message, and translate that into a striking visual. Not an easy task!

Next on the agenda was to talk about how to deal with volunteer painters. As the leader of a mural project, you’re not only responsible for the creative process, but also in charge of coordinating the volunteers in a way that will make them feel involved and appreciated. We talked about what language (not) to use, how to be conscious of our body language and how to be inclusive. We specifically talked about how to work with children and how to secure their safety and wellbeing wile in our charge.

The last theme was on how to make a design that is of a high artistic quality but easy to implement with a large number of unexperienced volunteers. I shared some techniques I have used in the past that might be helpful to someone someday.

The workshop wasn’t al talk. In between each topic we did a little painting. The first assignment was to paint something beautiful (non-figuartive) on small pieces of paper. Quickly, so as not to over-think it. The next step was to repeat the same, but trying to paint something UGLY! This is much more difficult because we all have this natural tendency to create something beautiful.
Step three was to compare the “pretty” pictures with the “ugly” ones. It was quite obvious that the “pretty” pictures contained bright colours and clearly defined shapes. The “ugly” ones were much darker, no white coming through. More abstract and less figurative. There were definitely differences between the two piles of paintings, which, we might conclude, means there are some universal preferences, despite our different tastes and styles. Interestingly, the “ugly” paintings were done in a much freer style. Some were crumpled up, in some the paint was scratched with the back of a brush, others stamped, smudged or folded.
The last part was to divide the group in two and make a quick collage, using both the “pretty” and “ugly” paintings. The goal was to show how something “ugly” can be transformed into something beautiful and how to make a collective work of art making equal use of everybody’s input in a very short time with limited supplies. The final results were very different, but equally beautiful.

Next step is to do some real mural painting! In December I’ll paint no less than three murals with the youth of Urban HeArt in their neighbourhood Vista Hermosa, where we painted a mural at the entrance of the barrio, just a year ago. Looking forward for it!

A big thanks to all the participants of this workshop for their input; to Katie and Lead-up for the use of their wonderful space, to Denilson & Co of Urban HeART and of course to Dutch foundation Colour4Kids for sponsoring this workshop and the upcoming murals.

Monday, November 7, 2022

A Happy Hospital

Tessa de Goede

You don’t normally think of a hospital as a “happy place” but this one sure is. ClĂ­nica Los Tulipanes is located on the outskirts of Antigua Guatemala and caters solely to children with cleft lip or palate. Tessa de Goede, founder of the NGO Tess Unlimited that runs the clinic, made her dream come true by now having her own place where children receive the best care they can get. For years, Tessa brought in medical teams to do the surgeries on location, which was always complicated and rarely comfortable. Now the children receive surgery in a top of the bill location, as well as any other care they might need. Think a special milk program for new-borns, psychological consultations for the parents, speech therapy and dental care for the older children. Tessa managed to turn a clinical space into a warm home with lots of details that will most definitely bring a smile to anyone’s face.

I feel honoured to have been involved in the art design part of this project. The opening of the hospital was much delayed due to the pandemic, but that gave me all the time to paint cute animals (al with cleft lips!) in the recovery rooms. Earlier this year I painted some animals in the dental clinic, including an installation that hangs from the ceiling, depicting a hole in the ceiling that opens up to the sky. That and the butterflies that hang from it give the children something to look for while in the dentist chair.

Just last week I painted, on Tessa’s request and kindly sponsored by the Dutch foundation Podia4People, a large map of Guatemala. It’s actually a cork-board that will be used to pin down the hometown of each patient. Next to it a quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. A perfect spot for selfies, of course!

It’s wonderful to have seen the clinic transform from a construction site into an buzzling beehive of activities. Dozens of children have already benefited from this happy place, and dozens more are on the waiting list.

Does that mean that my work is over? Thank goodness no! The next step is to build a temporary home for patients’ family. Tessa and team laid the first brick last week, so the work has begun. And contrary to the clinic, there are not so many healthy and safety regulations to take in account, so we can go as crazy as we want. Looking forward to it!

Many thanks to Colour4Kids and People4Podia for sponsoring!