She Arises

12 02 2010
She Arises 2009
Kit Ripley

Eastern University
Artist’s Statement
“She Arises”, a multimedia piece

A project submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the course:
ARTS 525: Foundations for Arts and Transformation

By Kit Ripley

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
June 30, 2009

Transformation is the intentional process of bringing about change in the world – a change in which people, communities and their systems are economically, socially, politically, and spiritually renewed, given new vision and power of capacity to live a life in harmony with God, themselves, one another, and their environment. (Corbitt and Nix-Early, p. 52-53)

In my ongoing work with girls from the hilltribes of northern Thailand, I encounter situations of desperate poverty, abuse, labor exploitation, and human trafficking. Many of the girls who come to us lack citizenship and opportunities for schooling. This year, there was an 18 year old young woman who entered our program who had never been to school. She was enrolled the adult education program in the first grade, and began her studies in May, 2009. In Thailand, social alienation and discrimination collaborate to systematically oppress and marginalize poor minority peoples.

This piece of artwork, entitled “She Arises”, is a multi-media compilation based on a watercolor painting I completed in January, 2005. The original painting, entitled “Cultural Dilemma”, shown below, depicts a young Akha tribal girl leaning against a bamboo shaft, watching other children play on a tribal swing. (Most any Akha would be able to identify that a shaft of bamboo placed at this angle is part of the traditional 40-foot high, 3-legged swing used in Akha New Year’s celebrations. The swing has religious implications in the animist Akha belief system.) The girl is isolated and lonely. She symbolizes the vulnerability of young tribal girls who are trying to navigate an uncertain future. Her modern T-shirt and jumper imply that she longs for access to contemporary goods, services and education, and she resists playing with other children in the traditional ways. Yet she also feels an attachment to her tribal heritage and is trying to figure out how to live in the modern world without losing her cultural identity.

“She Arises” is an image of transformation. This new foray into abstract art marries acrylic paint with paper collage. The young girl’s face is photocopied and painted over, and the paint is applied with a paintbrush, palette knife, and rubber stamps. There are three kinds of transformation implied in this painting, each based on Corbitt and Nix-Early’s levels of transformation. “Personal empowerment and responsibility” (p. 53-54) is depicted in the stamped writing. Through education and training, this young girl has become literate and is now able to access information. Her life, just like this image, becomes more complex and textured. The spirals also symbolize inner strength and courage. Her vision and vocational opportunities have broadened. She is beginning to take responsibility for her life choices. In her spiritual experience, the glory of God is washing over her life, and shines in her.

The second area of change reflected in this painting is “community revitalization (p. 54). One girl has become three as she grows up and gathers a network of people around her, strengthening her community ties. The ultramarine background also represents her connection to her society, as she is part of the flow of the river of life. The mulberry paper strips used in the collage allude to her connection to the Thai economy as this is a product typically produced and sold in northern Thailand.

“Societal transformation” (p. 54) is depicted through wavy lines. I identify wavy lines as part of my personal symbol lexicon. The sensuous, healing, restorative movement of curved lines appeals to me and appears frequently in my artwork. In this piece, parallel wavy lines, imprinted in several sections of the artwork represent the vision that as this one girl’s life is transformed, the lives of the people around her (parallel to her) will also be transformed. When this girl receives education, learns to speak, read and write in the Thai language, and is able to articulate her own voice, she will then be able to teach and inspire others, advocate for gender equality, dispel social stereotypes and positively influence society.

Through my active participation in ongoing work to empower tribal girls, and through envisioning the change I hope for in my artwork, I believe that I am participating in the actual transformation of tribal society in Thailand. Arlene Goldbard talks about community artists as “agents of transformation” who use their artistic abilities to contribute to social change. (p. 58) This piece of artwork is my contribution to the change. As I envision a new future for this girl, I am inviting her to emerge from vulnerable, passive, isolation into an active, empowered engagement with the complexity of the world, and her own culture. And as I lead therapeutic art classes, I invite girls like this one to anticipate their own liberation through the redemptive participation in games of freedom. (Moltmann, p. 3, 12) Through art-play our young people have a chance to try on different ways of being in a safe forum for experimentation. They begin to engage with the world by learning to interact with others, or with musical instruments, art materials, sports equipment, etc.. (Moltmann, p. 24) In so doing, they become active participants in the shaping of their own future. Positive societal transformation is not inevitable. It must be actively and deliberately created by the forward-thinking members of that society. My hope is that through the creation of thoughtful artwork, I will stimulate that kind of vision in the people I serve.

References
Corbitt, J. Nathan and Nix-Early, Vivian. (2003). Taking It To The Streets: Using the Arts to Transform Your Community. Michigan: Baker Books.

Goldbard, Arlene. (2006). New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development. Oakland: New Village Press.

Moltmann, Jurgen. (1972). Theology of Play. New York: Harper and Row.

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