Monday 25 June 2012

How American artist and culture activist imprinted on Lagos art school's space

It's Brett Cook's thoughts on Nurturing People and Ideas, a collaborative project tagged Sharing Culture/smARTpower. 
Cook's Nurturing People and Ideas mural installed at the New creative Arts complex next to the Faculty of Social sciences was part of commemoration of the university’s 50th Anniversary.
The Nurturing People and Ideas mural painting at the Creative Arts Dept of University of Lagos (UNILAG), Nigeria.
 Cook says: Nurturing People and Ideas is a multi-faceted process of community building that includes the collaborative development of a large-scale public artwork at the University of Lagos, featuring University of Lagos students, staff, and community.  Facilitated by American artist Brett Cook during his six-week residency in Nigeria as part of the U.S. Department of State’s smARTpower initiative, Nurturing People and Ideas represents Cook’s evolving conception of collaboration and art making as a framework for transformation that includes social relevance and localized solutions.  The culminating public Mural represents a synthesis of participant generated photographs and writing from the 2012 Sharing Culture/smARTpower Workshop at the University of Lagos, April 2012.
  Central to Cook’s practice and evidenced in the lectures and workshops he led in Lagos and Ibadan, social collaboration transcends individual privileges where separate expectations are replaced with equality, and collective self-interest. By creating experiences of dynamic demographics, with exercises that everyone can create in, there is a collective unification, a support of new community that is inclusive in its being.  At the center of the exercises are an artistic representation of partnership and a considerate example of international community engagement to nurture people and ideas.
  Detailed Project Description and History
In 2012 The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Bronx Museum of the Arts launched smARTpower, a new initiative that sends 15 American artists and artist teams to 15 countries worldwide to engage in people-to-people diplomacy through the visual arts.  This new initiative builds on Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vision of “smart power diplomacy,” which embraces the use of a full range of diplomatic tools – in this case the visual arts – to bring people together and foster greater understanding.
  American artist, educator, and healer Brett Cook will visit Nigeria for a total of 6 weeks under the joint partnership of the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York, and the Women and Youth Art Foundation in Nigeria (his first visit was from April 9 –May 30, 2012.) In a four-day workshop at University of Lagos, participants used progressive educational philosophies and diverse contemplative exercises to highlight how art can be a force for personal discovery and mutual understanding. In the process, participants reflected upon personal identity within their diverse and overlapping communities, culminating in the collaborative creation of artifacts (drawings, writing and photos), digital documentation, a community celebration and public artwork that expresses a variety of cultural and aesthetic positions.
Nurturing People and Ideas Portraits - Seeing Self in Community Public Artwork
During the University of Lagos workshop, participants worked in groups to collaboratively create and present 26 original photographs (one for each letter of the alphabet) that reflected their notions of community. The work demanded dialogue and cooperation, and encouraged both collaborative learning and individual autonomy. Chosen photos from this exercise were then used as inspiration for personal reflection statements about nurturing people and ideas in the world – this year’s theme for University of Lagos’ 50th anniversary.
  Based on preliminary site evaluations, two digital layouts were created for consideration for the permanent painting installation. Both proposed digital “sketches” feature photos and writing created by workshop participants from the above exercise. 
  Image 1: This image features busts of three men and two women looking upwards with slight smiles – they are confident and hopeful and yet also humble and kind, connected to each other through their close proximity, gaze and emotion.  They are ringed by quotations by other participants that highlight ideas of mutual understanding and nurture, as well as invoking introspection. The work includes students, community supporters, and faculty of varied gender together, suggesting the complexity of UNILAG’s learning community – that when taken in consideration with the smARTpower project, has local, national, and international scope. 
  Image 2: The second digitally prepared layout features the same group fully figured and viewed from behind as they look upwards, with quotations that float around them.  Without being able to see the faces of the models it is their body language, inferred gaze, and interlocking arms that covey the sense of interconnectedness and support that the selection of accompanying quotations complement. As we, the viewers, stand behind them, we come to see that they could be anyone and from many walks of life, anonymous leaders or committed community members who could just as easily be ourselves.
  Community Celebration:  A culminating social collaboration celebration on Friday June 8 as part of the permanent installation “dedication” features collaborative exercises that continue the work of the smARTpower project including the initial coloring of 2 new portraits, and miscellaneous collaborative craft experiences.
  Project Timeline
April 14 – 18, 2012 - Phase I
smARTpower Collaborative Workshop, The Parapet at the Main Auditorium Building, University of Lagos.
May 4 – 18, 2012 - Phase II
Video documentation, editing, and painting fabrication in USA.

May 25 – June 8, 2012 - Phase III

Public Installation of Nurturing People and Ideas Permanent artwork at UNILAG
1 time reconvening of smARTpower workshop June 6, 2012, location TBA
A culminating social collaboration celebration on Friday June 8 as part of permanent installation “dedication” featuring, the initial coloring of 2 new portraits, and miscellaneous collaborative experiences.
  Resources necessary for installation with UNILAG and WY Art Foundation:
Cherry Picker Lift 5/25 – 6/8
Electricity for digital projectors for 4 nights, 3 heavy-duty extension cords
1 large ladders
Sound for June 8 dedication/celebration
Painting Materials (rollers, roller pads, prep paint, trays, gloves)
10 large tables for Friday June 8 Dedication event.
   I don’t know if there is a Facilities or Grounds department at UNILAG, but those are frequently places that I work with in the installation of my work in schools and at universities.  If any of the materials listed can be provided, that would be great.
  Brett Cook Biography
My work cohesively integrates the breadth and depth of my diverse experiences with art, education, science, and spirituality. For over two decades I have produced exhibitions, curricula, and events widely across the United States, and internationally.  My use of participatory ethnographic strategies, progressive educational pedagogy, and community organizing connect my work to exceptionally wide audiences. My museum work includes elaborate installations that make intimately personal experiences universally accessible. My public projects typically involve community workshops and collaborative art, along with music, performance, and food.  I have received numerous awards, including residencies at the Skowhegan School in Maine and the Studio Museum in Harlem.  In 2008 I held the Lehman Brady Joint Chair Professorship in Documentary Studies at Duke University and the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  In 2009 I published Who Am I In This Picture: Amherst College Portraits with Wendy Ewald and Amherst College Press. I am currently visiting professor at the San Francisco Art Institute.  My work is in private and public collections including the Smithsonian/National Portrait Gallery, the Walker Art Center, and Harvard University.  

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