Tag Archives: art

Graphics, Typography, Advertisements. Oh My!

As a graphic design major who favors working with typography, it intrigues me and at the same time pains me to look at all the signs in Africa. Advertisements in Africa are a great example of all things students in the United States are taught not to do. Having inquired about the way signs are designed in Africa, I can tell you that there are no laws or rules people follow. There are no standards that are deemed more acceptable than others and each advertisement is subjected to the creator’s own judgment. My personal struggle is trying to process all or most of the information on any given sign while driving. Frequently signs are loaded with typography. Few have images and most are hand painted, which can add to the complications of reading them.

Landscape drawing by Penny

Penny, a freelance artist in Kampala, told me finding work in Africa as an artist is fairly easy, which contradicted KizAza, a refugee artist who raps. Whether the type of art they do makes a difference in their ability to find work, I do not know. Penny added a sketch in my notebook as we floated down the Nile River and talked about art; it was one of the best parts of the trip for me. We discussed the typography of signs in Africa, which she is accustomed to and found my views on them interesting.

 

Even in the ways we create our signs, it says a lot about our culture. The USA is much faster paced, people are more direct and there is less acceptance of others. Where in Africa, it took us two hours to drive two miles during rush hour traffic, people spoke in multiple sentences rather than answering in a few words and everyone greeted us and made us feel at home. The first thing on the agenda in Africa when you go to a new place, the host(s) make sure everyone has a chair. On multiple occasions, it took longer for the host(s) to locate a chair for everyone in the group than the time we spent sitting in them. From my experience in America, if you hang out long enough, someone might offer you a chair eventually.

Signs in Africa

I felt slightly flattered yet terrified when  Stanley greeted us at the UNHCR office and caused several nervous laughs when he commented that I should be detained because I was a graphic design major and they needed me there. I honestly, do not know where I would even begin with designing in Africa, with a background in design with rules and guidelines firmly embedded into my thought process. I would have an open table to create how I chose but that can also open up a whole different set of issues. I have to say, I have given some serious thought to the idea of being an artist in Africa before Stanley made his comment…I just don’t believe that it would be the best choice for me.

 

Weavings of Beauty

I looked over my notes and questions I would be asking Danny throughout the interview.
I looked over my notes and questions before my first interview.

I had the chance to conduct my first interview with a gentleman named Danny who is a citizen from Nogales, Mexico who volunteers at El Comedor.

I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at the Commodor for seven years.
I was able to interview Danny, who had been born and raised in Nogales, Mexico. He has been volunteering at El Comedor for seven years.

One of the questions that I asked was, “Where do you see God in all of this?”

After a few meditative moments, Danny’s response was, “God is in us.” He explained that even though he prays for things to get better, he sees God in the actions of people helping other people. He emphasized the ability to see migrants as people and not as a statistic. When we treat people with human dignity and interact with them as an equal, our hearts are impacted and transformed. What an incredible response that really embodies the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s likeness.

I’ve always wanted to change the world, to make a positive impact for those who needed it the most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that it’s a lot harder than it sounds. But I refuse to be derailed from my goal to change the world. My goals have just have just become more focused. I’ve realized that every person has their own world that weaves through other worlds. When my world collides with another, it is the perfect opportunity for me to take the gifts I have been given to share with another. Our human stories become one, if even for an instant, and we both can benefit. The weaving of all stories under the human race is truly an awe-inspiring mystery.

Even for those of you who don’t believe in God, I hope you believe in the beauty that surrounds us everyday, especially in the face of hardships. Since I have been on this trip, I have seen this over and over again.

Natalia performing at the Commodor for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.
Natalia performing at the Commodore for migrants who were recently deported. She invited them to sing along with her and their spirits were immediately lifted.

Natalia is a singer/songwriter who used to volunteer at El Comedor. She was born in the US but spent most of her time growing up in Columbia, where she became fluent in Spanish. When she started to hear these stories that the migrants would tell her, she became moved to write songs about their terrifying experiences and turn them into hauntingly beautiful songs.

Maren and I were able to film Natalia interact and play for the immigrants. One of her songs lyrics talked about the fire that burned in their souls to achieve the dream of a better life.

Natalia performed a concert at El Comedor that I was able to help film. A group of men who had just been deported moments before, had been dropped off just as everyone had sat down. The only table left was between my camera and Natalia. While I was filming, I made eye contact with a man and immediately smiled at him. He just sort of stared back at me. A few minutes later, our eyes met again and again I smiled. Shyly, a grin started to emerge from his face. The next time that our eyes met, he was beaming and his eyes twinkled. After dinner, I was conversing with a few other men in my broken Spanish and I could see him standing back and waiting. I went over and introduced myself to him and held out my hand to meet his. I learned that he was from a town in Central Mexico, 20 years old, and traveling by himself. His warm smile is what kept my tears from pouring out. We spoke very few words between us as I had to start packing up our gear, but the smiling seemed to be enough for the both of us.

The bottom image is flipped to make the image look more aesthetically pleasing. However, the bottom image is what the wall looks like that splits the United States and Mexico. The wall in the top photo was painted blue in order to “erase” the wall.

This wall that everyone keeps talking about is ugly both physically and symbolically. It’s brown and metal and not aesthetically pleasing whatsoever. A Mexican-American artist, Ana Teresa Fernández, has painted murals on the wall in different cities at the border. Her project is called, “Borrando la Frontera,” or “Erasing the Border.” Her mural in Nogales is sky blue, meant to look as if the sky had been brought down and the border erased.

We need to believe in the power of our individual talents and abilities to interact with others in a way that can make a lasting impact, even if only for an instant.

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity,” Joseph Addison
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Treasure amongst the trash

Written by Mari Heller and Claudia Brock

Watch our video project on this topic here.

While in most parts of America, trash receptacles are not anything note-worthy. However, in Bethel, Alaska the dumpsters around the area are painted in bright colors and are even considered a tourist attraction by the residents of the city.

 Reyne Athanas, the current Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center Coordinator, runs the children’s art camp in the summer and is responsible for the dumpsters being repainted annually. With her Masters degree in Fine Arts and her 25 years experience as an art teacher, Athanas uses her expertise to guide over 60 kids during summer art camp sessions through various projects, including painting the dumpsters.

 “My sister-in-law, Janet Athanas, with the Bethel Parks and Rec. Department started that [painting the dumpsters] as a contest and that was probably, I want to say 2000. So the best dumpsters in the community got prizes. When Janet started it was communities or individuals would paint them but that kind of stopped, so with the art camp we decided we’d take it over,” said Athanas.

 The art camp, which has been holding sessions since 2005 has been growing every summer and offers a week of hands-on arts and crafts projects to children ranging in age from 8-13 years old.

 Most institutions in Bethel have their own painted dumpster, like the Bethel Health Clinic and the Cultural Center. Some dumpsters around the city do not belong to an organization but are used to promote a lifestyle choice such as birth control, being active, and engaged parenting.

 Because the art camp has become responsible for the maintenance of the dumpsters, Athanas must call around the city before the art camp starts to secure the unconventional canvases for her students.

 “I call the people who are in charge of the dumpsters and ask them to drop off I try to get eight per camp but this year they didn’t give us quite that many. So they drop them off, we paint them, they pick them up and put them back,” said Athanas.

 Athanas has not heard of any other city or town in Alaska who paints their dumpsters and believes that this form of urban art sets Bethel apart from other communities.

 While the dumpsters are made for disposable items, the messages and imagery on the outside of them are forms of lasting beauty in the city.