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Patterns of Democracy

Updated: Jan 23, 2021

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963

This week ART YARD Advanced Studio coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Which made for a moving and powerful discussion as artists arrived on our Zoom space. Earlier in the day I had listened to a recording of Dr. King’s I Have A Dream speech and found myself moved to tears. We discussed leadership and vision and visionaries such as Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi who in 2013 originated the BLM hashtag and call to action. I read the quote above and then we jumped into our session.

Teaching Artist Flávia Berindoague joined us from Casa Branca, Brumadinho in Brazil to lead us in a session The Powerful voice of Malian Bògòlanfini Textile.

Malian Bògòlanfini Textile and artist

Flávia explains: “We looked at Malian Bògòlanfini textiles and learned about the symbolism of Bògòlian motifs, patterns, methods of production, and how they define identity, unity and force in a community. We discussed the 01/06/2021 event happening at the Capitol Hill and the ideologies and values of democracy.

I asked the Advanced Studio Artists to use Bògòlian motifs, shapes and/or colors to create a piece of art to depict the power of our community voice to fight for our democracy, our rights as American citizens.

Malian Bògòlanfini Textile with color key

Collage, drawing, painting and digital drawing were all used for this session. We saw a range of symbolic ideas including circles symbolizing sun and hope; the color red for lack of unity, corruption, insurrection, violence, police brutality, racism, but also for resistance, passion or change; white for peace and equality; squares representing self-transformation, respect and love; bars representing window (new attitude) and way to see something differently; blue with a circle as unity, and so on.

I had high expectations for the session, but was truly amazed by the stunning pieces and powerful concepts the artists shared in the final critique!!”

Flávia just finished the background on her own piece Land of Pataxó’s Tribe. Which responds to the community devastated due to illegal invasions in their lands and now Covid. She plans to add on top the motifs typical of their tribes.

Flávia Berindoague, Land of Pataxó’s Tribe (in progress), acrylic on board

Marilyn writes: “Flávia’s lesson made me think about the symbols that can describe the political turmoil we’ve endured during the past 4 years as well as the insurrection on January 6, 2021, with the desecration at the Capitol. In my piece, I repeated silhouettes of the Capitol building, which represent our democracy. Around them are upside-down and topsy-turvy MAGA (Make America great again.) hats of the poisonous Trump administration. In the blue frame are black circles with a center black dot, the symbol taken from the Bògòlian motifs representing unity, the pledge for the new Biden-Harris administration. The red stars on a white ground and the blue frame refer to our Star-Spangled Banner.”

Marilyn August, Democracy Pattern, collage and black marker

Karla received many complements for her collage and content during the critique. She explains her work: “I couldn't dismiss the images of the crowds of individuals moving in mass throughout both interior and exterior our iconic Capitol architecture on Jan 6. I have translated these visuals to symbols for this lesson. From left to right: Yellow circles split in two represent the rotunda...the unity of a circle changed...surrounded by many people represented by red rectangular shapes, all of different sizes as individuals. Yellow denotes wealth but also something precious. Red, the blood spilt in the attack, strong feelings or possibly passion for a different and more peaceful state. White "L"shapes... the many mazes of hallways throughout the building or the shape of legs and where they take us. Linear white strips... the many steps of the building. White circles within yellow half circles...hope within the sunshine of brighter horizons. Window shapes dotted with people...or possibly the bars of jail cells. We see through windows and bars...views from inside out or outside in...or hope beyond confinement.”

Karla Prickett, Democracy Pattern, cut paper collage

Ardelia’s piece which is deep in symbolic content "focused on love, self transformation and respect. Looking forward to the world I would like to see." The painting is still in progress and I will swap in the completed image when Ardelia is finished, so check back!

Ardelia Lovelace, Democracy Pattern (in progress), acrylic on paper

We were excited to have two new-comers to Advanced Studio this week – my niece Clara McNeal and her friend Olivia Schumacher joining us from their bubble on campus of University of California at Berkeley.

Olivia describes her ideas and how she manifested them in her drawing: “I saw the arches used in the patterns we used, and they reminded me of arches in the Roman Empire, which was a system that the US resembled when the government was established. The yellow lines going through the arches represent wealth and how that has twisted the our democratic system.

Olivia Schumacher, Democracy Patterm, ink and watercolor on paper

Clara shares her thoughts: “My work was about the idea of democracy vs. how it has played out over history. The piece is supposed to evolve as it moves across the page, and the colors and symbols represent democracy going from a structure that was supposed to represent peace and freedom to a structure that has become more upsetting, and finally confusing, with a lack of direction, in the end.”

Clara McNeal, Democracy Pattern, ink and marker on paper

Kevin, Jacob and Vera all employed the powerful and evocative images of hands.

Kevin says: “For this piece I wanted to focus on what is at the center, two people or two groups of people coming to a consensus to create a powerful force. For if we do not, despite our individual beliefs, clashing ideas can often come off as noise, and then nothing is accomplished, which is what I tried to show with the scribbles erratically taking up the negative space. Even if we do not agree 100%, a compromise can provide a sense of transparency.”

Kevin Anderson, Democracy Pattern, craypas on paper

Jacob’s states: “This is my piece from Flavia's class. I chose to make a painting of George Floyd Square. White, light blue, and yellow are the dominant colors you'll see outside on a snowy, sunny, January day in Minneapolis. The gold rings are halos, which represent the people murdered by police in America, and can also represent racism/oppression more generally. The fist and the flowers are both elements present in the real George Floyd Square. The flowers represent the opportunity for growth after tragedy. The fist represents communal resistance/power. Both the flowers and the fist break the gold chains, showing that all sizes of resistance are important. I don't think I mentioned this during critique, but they replaced the wooden fist with a metal fist on the day we had class.”

In Vera's version she aimed to “captured the notion of separation and how we are really polarized in our ideologies. However, for ultimate success we have to come together to build a better country and democracy for all.”

Vera Tineo, Democracy Pattern, marker on paper

Zeke's piece explores unity. "The black and white patterns represent people working together, the blue represents families, and the green represents motion. The whole thing represents people working together, and change being made."

Zeke Brokow, Democracy Pattern, marker on paper

Nayarit, Wayne and Sarah included writing – words, quotes and numbers respectively.

Nayarit portrays the idea that “Democracy is a collective effect, which is why it is so complex and requires constant action to protect it. Red was chosen for a strong political standpoint, blue for peace and purple for healing as this country has to thrive towards unity and resilience. The complex pattern is to show that democracy is diverse and challenging but once formed together, it can be a beautiful thing.”

Nayarit Tineo, Democracy Pattern, marker on paper

Wayne wrote out poignant quotes from Martin Luther King, drawing evocative images to symbolically respond to the text.

Wayne Gross, Democracy Pattern, colored pencil on paper

Sarah dug into her collage supplies — “using African printed paper over a black background simply as the black with the date. I illustrated a judges gavel and a scale representing justice and unity for people with samples that represent wealth and luxury with the printed paper.”

Sarah Gumgumji, Democracy Pattern, cut paper collage

As Ed said during the critique, "for me, pumpkins symbolize happiness. The crow feather for me represents the crow quill ink pen." adding in an email later "Another interpretation of my piece could be: The Declaration of Independence speaks of, "The right to the pursuit of happiness." Like the Constitution, it was written with a quill. Perhaps that is what my imagery alludes to?"

Ed Rath, Democracy Pattern, cut paper collage

Eden gave us a lesson on Hawaiian culture and politics. The symbols she uses in her digital drawing are Hawaiian in origin.

Eden Moore, Democracy Pattern, digital drawing

In my own piece I used the symbol of a heart to represent love and kindness, and the sun and moon to evoke justice and balance. My color selection from the Bògòlian chart are maroon for healing, gold for richness (in the emotional/cultural sense rather than a monetary way) and blue for harmony and love. I drew the symbols in sharpie on a scarf, then arranged the scarf in a heart shape on a meditation cushion and that is what I painted.

Meridith McNeal, Magical Things from Quarantine Democracy Pattern, watercolor on paper

Zahir had to leave early, but Blaze made up for it by joining us for critique. As ever it was nice to have his input in the discussion.


We are very excited to announce a new vision for ART YARD CREATE! Dennis and Sarah have conceived of a great plan to use the forum for a series of interviews with artists! Sarah is designing the look of pages now and will begin the interviews soon. Stay tuned as our first interviews will be with Teaching Artist Glendalys Medina and Board Member/Teaching Artist Cecile Chong!

Glendalys Medina, Quarantine Drawing and teaching a session on printmaking
Cecile Chong, El Dorado installation at Wave Hill and teaching a book making class

When we are not in the midst of a pandemic ART YARD makes a point of getting out together to see art in person. When Teaching Artists have work on view in NYC the experience is even deeper when we are treated to a dialogue with the maker. This week Vera was going through her files and found a drawing she did from my exhibition Liar, Liar at Figureworks Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the first year she was my student!

Meridith McNeal, The Keys to the Jail, 2013, ink on paper, 44x48"

Vera describes her work and the experience of visiting the exhibition: “This piece was the first drawing I worked really hard on to capture every detail.” Vera explains, “When I saw Meridith’s work, I was so impressed with her ink drawing on such a large scale. [In my piece the Blue Fair’s hands are drawn twice as big as my own hands.] I was in Junior High and this trip was my introduction to art, talking to a working artist about her work and learning about the possibilities of art as a method of personal expression. It was such a great experience.”

Vera Tineo, After Keys to the Jail, 2013, pencil on paper

Bernie Sanders and his mittens have been an internet sensation in the past week. Ricardo Levins Morales (focus of teaching artist Jacob Rath's class in December) made a meme combining this image of Bernie with his own work. Thanks to Jacob for forwarding!

Ricardo Levins Morales, 8 Hours with Bernie

Tim Rollins was a mentor to his students K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) and inspiration to art educators determined to harness the power of art to transform, inspire and enrich our lives.

I visited Tim and K.O.S at their classroom in the Bronx where a battered metal door was propped askew just inside the entry to the room. Tim explained to me that he felt it was important to establish classroom rules and stick to them. He did not abide by lateness to class and would lock the door after the bell. The door was mangled by a student desperate to get IN to the classroom for the artmaking session in spite of arriving late. Check out what the K.O.S. are up to now in this article in the New York Times.


Dream big!

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