Each year, our artist development program, Create Change, supports 15 to 20 artists developing their socially engaged creative practice through our Fellowship, Residency, and Commissions program. In 2012, we began asking our Create Change artists to pair up for Creative Conversations: open-ended creative exchanges to be published on our blog. Read on to meet our Create Change alumni.
Moira: Haifa, I was drawn to your project and your commitment to engaging all sorts of folks, including elected officials and real estate developers. Can you tell me about your Laundromat Project residency and share some of your successes?
Haifa: The Laundromat Project was vital to my development as an artist and has informed my practice in new and empowering ways. For six months I worked in residency at a laundromat with residents in South Yonkers. My project, Take Me to the River, had the objective of fabricating a community-based mosaic depicting the importance of access to the Hudson River while empowering residents to organize and speak-out against increased industrialization. This has occurred as the City of Yonkers relocates industrial sites from the downtown “revitalization” waterfront to the waterfront in South Yonkers, blocking residents access to the River. We were able to successfully engage local politicians, developers and residents in dialogue and to bring awareness to the plight of South Yonkers residents need for recreation and river access.
Moira: In similar form, my practice is shaped by the urban environment, its cycles, mobility, wildlife and people as well as through the exchanges I experience doing my work in public places. I am interested in the exchange of gestures, the not so visible, ecosystems as well as fragility and its strength. The work is process-based; loaded with shifts, turns, failures and surprises! The creative process is so rarely linear. Did anything surprise you as the residency unfolded?
Haifa: Well, we began the residency with a clear idea of where the mosaic would be installed, but we still pondered the ways in which the mosaic could be a lasting testimony to our process. One day as we were taking a walk to the river with the local children, one of them made the comment that we should install blue tiles into the sidewalk cracks. They felt this would create a powerful image of the river breaking through the sidewalk while also creating a path that referenced the river even though we could not gain access directly. This concept was so brilliant and came from Maria, a third grader! The adults had really gotten so caught up in completing our mosaic project and larger goal, that I feel we neglected to listen to other voices. We had done the very thing that we were advocating against. We proceeded to fill all of the sidewalk cracks with blue mosaic creating a wonderful way-finding walkway leading down to the river.
Moira: I’m working on project called Adopt a Box, which is a community partnership between my neighborhood and a local shipping warehouse to create presence in an unsafe subway exit and walkway in my neighborhood. Adopt a Box will be planter boxes that community members can adopt and care for along the 600-foot long outer wall of a warehouse. Each planter box will have the adoptee’s name on it and they will be provided with soil, mulch, seeds and plants. However, the folks who adopt a planter box will have free reign over their planting and decorating choices. Benches and trellis will also be installed along the sidewalk as well as several lights. Inspired by you Haifa and Maria, the sidewalk will have green tiles mosaicked into the cracks to direct people to Irving Park, Eldert Street Community Garden, Make A Road’s community garden and chicken coop, The Social Justice High School’s Eco Station and several other public green places. We may even point to folk’s private green spaces that they would like to share with the neighborhood in annual neighborhood garden walks! At our next community meeting, we will be talk about creating a mural, gathering seed suggestions, and a ribbon cutting ceremony.
I find being part of the LP community embodied in the book club that we are starting! We can continue our lively conversations and then shake them up with questions, critical thoughts and considerations about making, doing, community, social practice, social justice and how it all lives together, crossing and mixing cultures. It’s really exciting to be part of a community where we can feed each other in so many ways. The book club is a place for former, recent and future LP alumni too. Maintaining a curious, creative and thoughtful community is important. Haifa, how about you? What has being part of The LP’s artistic community meant for you?
Haifa: A significant impact to my art practice came from the support and network of fellow artists working within a socially engaged practice. As a Muslim-American, I have found it difficult to navigate an environment that still holds “ALL” Muslims responsible for or connected to the crimes committed on September 11th. The impact on Muslims has been pervasive and overwhelming, but we are very rarely in a safe environment to speak about that. As an artist, we work these things out in our practice, but I’ve felt the impact from curators, organizations, grantors, etc. who feel that the subject matter is “too sensitive” or “too complicated.” Being in an environment where my voice and perspective were valued and supported enabled me take risks that I haven’t felt safe to take.
Moira: I’d love to hear about your next projects!
Haifa: I’m currently working on a body of work that addresses the Abu Ghraib images as well as the rape and murder and burning of a 13-year old Iraqi girl, Abeer, by American soldiers. Social engagement, social justice and the points at which they converge in an art practice are rough waters to navigate, but nevertheless we need to set sail and be off. That requires the kind of support and resources that I received during the Create Change Residency. I’m excited and energized and looking forward to embarking on this new journey. The support I received has given me a voice. Moira, what’s on the horizon for you now?
Moira: My interest continues to live in the dirt! Two other projects that I am working on in collaboration with soil scientists will focuses on urban soil. One is focused on urban soil as a living story about movement, value, and displacement. Another has to do with seed dispersal and immigration.
I am also a co-founder of an interdisciplinary walk co-operative called Walk Exchange. We are actively building a walking community that is interested in walking as a creative and educational practice. Each year we provide a free Walk Study Training Course to promote walking as learning through the body, an active and lively way to exchange ideas, and community building. We believe that walking is a powerful way to generate and share ideas.