By Jamie Yoos
Speakers, creatives and spectators of all artistic realms were awestruck by the meaningful art showcased along with the wise words of advice that came from the professional artists on the expert panel during the Sight Specific: “The Art of Community” exhibit on Wednesday, September 19th in the Art and Interactive Multimedia building.
The gallery showcased community-based art projects students created alongside the works of four local professional artists who mentored and collaborated with them throughout the projects. The panel gave them each a chance to speak about their experience working within the Trenton, New Jersey community.
The professional artists showcased were Tamara Torres, Jon “Lank” Conner, Andrew Wilkinson, and Bentrice Jusu (who was absent from the panel.) Joined by the artists on the panel were two students, Cara Giddens, a senior fine arts major and Estefany Rodriguez, a junior art education major, who discussed their experiences working with professionals, meeting deadlines and the role they played in their community art projects.
The two big projects and topics of discussion were “Inside Out: Fabric of Trenton” and the East Trenton Community Garden Mural and Signs.”
“Inside Out” is a global street art project founded by French artist JR. The mission statement on the Inside Out Project website describes the artist’s work as, “a global platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.”
“Fabric of Trenton” was a series of portrait photographs of people in the Trenton community, with the goal exposing the essence of the community through capturing the personalities of its residents in photographs. The backdrops for these portraits were each on a different quilt pattern.
Rodriguez described the quilt patterns as unique and individual pieces that represent a community when they all come together.
She stressed how the artists collaborating on the project aimed to capture the demographics of the community, from the older crowd to the younger, including all sizes and races. Pride for the city citizens share was described as the metaphorical thread holding the fabric of Trenton together. The portraits are on display at Trenton Free Library and Higbee Street School in Trenton.
The East Trenton Community Garden Mural and Signs project was a partnership with the East Trenton Collaborative, and the caretakers of a local community garden to create artwork that would encourage people of Trenton to visit and take care of the garden.
Giddens was responsible for designing a mural of working hands to remind the community that it will take hard work to keep the garden going but it will also bring the community together.
“The artist is the custodian of identifying what is current and exploiting the content into another accessible medium. I aim to constantly exploit the aspect of accessibility,” said Andrew Wilkinson, one of the local artists that collaborated with the students.
Wilkinson has been an artist for 10 years and has explored mediums such as photography and sculpture. His art utilizes everyday objects to challenge the standard perception of items. He aims to use art to create reconstructed cultural images to spark new perceptions and question the old ones.
His works showcased at the gallery were photographs of smashed soda cans he had collected from the streets of Trenton over the years that attempts to defy branding. He wanted the cans to no longer represent an extremely well-known corporation, but to instead represent the urban areas of Trenton. Because the cans were smashed and from the streets, Wilkinson aimed for them to remind people of things like litter and traffic.
Torres, a local artist who also took part in the exhibit is a social artist and photographer who makes cultural statements in her art, used collages and mixed mediums to address issues of racism, injustice and feminism. She primarily photographs women of color to emphasize adversity and discrimination in society.
One of her pieces is an image of a young girl wearing a headpiece with the word “freedom” written on duct tape that covers her mouth. Her mission is to use art to change people’s outlook in order to work up to changing a generation.
Conner has been making street art and murals using stencils and spray paint in Trenton for about 10 years. Conner has created artwork for Whole Foods market, and he currently works for Monmouth University and teaches two dimensional design at Mercer County College. He emphasized the importance of doing your research when doing community art and searching diligently for community partners to work with.
Jusu is the creator of Both Hands, which is the only arts-based organization in Trenton that specifically serves teens and values adolescent insight.
“We reject the assumption that teens are broken people waiting to be mended and filled with knowledge. Instead, relationships are interactive; mentors and youth of all backgrounds learn from one another. To us, this is essential to community development,” Jusu states on her website.
The exhibit demonstrated that having a variety of creative artists come together and create meaningful work that impacts the community is valuable, but showed that educating people of all ages to be an active member of their community is priceless.