Know Power – street art for social change

Panels by Jackson Middle School students, framed by mural art by Aden Catalani

{as always, please click the images for a larger version}

Here’s a modern story for you: Tara has two facebook friends from Jackson Middle School who were about to present art in a show. Tara had never met them in real life, and thought she should go to the show. It would be a fun night out, and she would get to meet her friends in person. I agreed that it was a good idea, and I felt some of her delight at meeting friends in RL who had till then only existed as profile photos and comment strings on a status post.

The two girls seemed younger than her, but possibly the same age. I’ll guess 12 or 13. So I was genuinely impressed at the quality of the art and the depth of expression that came from all the students at the show.

It was called Know Power – street art for social change. Each artist covered a small panel – most were 2-3 foot rectangles. The theme was Africa, and in particular they expressed the suffering of Rwandans during genocide, lack of food and water, and the plight of child soldiers kidnapped and forced into war.

Parents, friends, and artists discuss the imagery

The Grassy Knoll Gallery is in a second-floor space on NW 2nd Ave, just off the Burnside bridge on the edge of Chinatown. A wonderful space with high ceilings and enough room to move around and gain new insightful perspectives, while small enough to remain intimate and to share the sense of shared experience with the others also appreciating the art.

In the central gallery room, Aden Catalani had painted a mural to set the stage, with a silhouette of Africa and graffiti illumination. It’s no secret to those who know me that I love graffiti art. I said as much to the artist who eagerly encouraged us to come to his own show opening with Stephen Holding at Backspace the following night. (We were unable to make it to that show opening, but I see the show is up all month, so we will try to hit it later.)

Jackson teacher Bethany was on hand to manage the show and answer questions about her talented students. She told me that she had taught some of the background during her Social Studies classes, but the students had also had the opportunity to hear visitors describe some of the social challenges in Africa. The students had also worked with a visiting artist who helped them design their pieces.

A room off to the side held a buffet of things to eat and drink, and traditional and world music played on a actual record player during the show (vinyl!). The people who put the show together did a great job and I am so glad the middle school students had the opportunity to experience a real art show. They had all been instructed to dress up for the event, so Tara and I had polished up as well. (I got to see my tomboy kid in a SKIRT! She made me promise not to put the photos on facebook – ha!)

Friends in real life

The art easily outshone all the other stories of the evening. Many of the images were powerful on their own, and each artist included a short paragraph below the piece to explain the idea behind their expression. These snapshots of pain, hunger, thirst, war, fear, and death told a single story of human suffering. Young people can often see most clearly in the face of societal failures, because they have not yet learned the advantage that some seek through the oppression of others.

All proceeds from donations at the show will go to Play Pumps by Water For People. See previous post for a short video on the Play Pumps project.

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